Hey there friends, patrons, youtube watchers and podcast subscribers, fellow myth heads all… my name is Lucifer means Lightbringer and I am here to shed light on yet another dark corner of ASOIAF lore. We are still following the trail of the Old Ones, who seem to be the same thing as the Green Men on the Isle of Faces, and we are doing this by pulling all the usages of the phrase “old one” and taking a look at the symbolic context on the scenes they occur in. We have worked through most of them, but not all, and one of the groups of old ones quotes I have reserved until now are the ones that apply to women!
That’s right, female Old Ones. Green women. Namely, Nissa Nissa – and Night’s Queen. Weirwood goddess figures, many of them, and many of them are women we covered in the Weirwood Goddess series, like the Ghost of High Heart or Cersei. So if you haven’t listened to the Weirwood Goddess series, I’d recommend that before this one. With that said, the weirwood goddess is quintessential to understanding what actually took place with Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa, and the weirwoods, so I will give a quick summary an make sure it’s fresh in everyone’s minds.
It started with the weirwood stigmata discovery – the phenomena where dying people seem to turn into weirwood trees, with some combination of bloody hands, mouths, eyes, and hair appearing alongside other tree or face carving symbolism. The most vivid examples involve Nissa Nissa figures, especially Catelyn Stark. “Why are Nissa Nissa people turning into weirwood trees as they die or symbolically die,” I was forced to ask myself. The answer seemed obvious, yet profound – Nissa Nissa is going into the weirwoods when she dies, and in that way turning into a weirwood tree. We’ve since found men (usually Azor Ahai people) experiencing weirwood stigmata as well, and the message again seems to a symbolic absorption into the weirwoodnet.
However, further research has shown that with Nissa Nissa, this concept of becoming a weirwood tree actually goes further. By looking at a whole bunch of Nissa Nissa figures, we found very consistent and overwhelming child of the forest symbols – dappled skin, child-woman descriptions, cat woman ideas as with Lady Catelyn and Cersei the Lioness, spear-maiden symbolism that is specifically drawn from the Meliai of Greek myth, who are dryads tied to the ash tree (and of course Yggdrasil is an Ash, making these Norse and Greek myths naturally compatible for Martin’s mythology mash-up writing technique).
So, we don’t know if Nissa Nissa was a full-blooded child of the forest, or a hybrid, or perhaps even a female of this theoretical, taller, green man race, but the message seems to be, broadly speaking, that she was an elf woman, one of the old races who was already tied to the weirwoods and to the forest in general. The picture that has emerged is that Azor Ahai killed her in a blood magic ritual to essentially force his way into the weirwoodnet, or you might say “harness its power.” He seems to have chosen Nissa Nissa specifically because of her connection to the weirwoods.
One final detail: the killing of Nissa Nissa and the dark magic that accompanied it seems to have permanently altered the weirwoodnet. The way I prefer to say it is that Nissa Nissa’s mind and soul and life essence became what we think of as the weirwoodnet, and that this act enabled Azor Ahai and human greenseers after him to enter the trees and see through their eyes. Don’t forget that Bloodraven describes seeing through the tree as essentially skinchanging the tree – the greenseer is invading the consciousness of the tree just as he is when he takes control of an animal or another human. I believe the evidence points to Nissa Nissa’s sacrifice being necessary to enable humans to skinchange the weirwoods at all, and that before this, it simply wasn’t done in the same way. I suspect the children and green men had a different way of bonding with the tree, though that’s a bit off topic. The point is that in scene after scene, Nissa Nissa seems to become the green sea herself when she dies. She becomes the weirwood tree – and that is the weirwood goddess theory.
When we see Nissa Nissa figures undergo the stigmata, like Catelyn’s death scene at the Red Wedding, they are depicting the moment of Nissa Nissa’s transformation. For example… Catleyn, following her bloody death, is thrown into the Green Fork of the Trident River, which gives us the idea of a green river and a river named after the weapon of a sea god, and this depicts Nissa Nissa’s spirit entering the “green see” of the weirwoodnet. Then next time we see her, she appears to us as the weirwood goddess figure:
The outlaws parted as she came forward, saying no word. When she lowered her hood, something tightened inside Merrett’s chest, and for a moment he could not breathe. No. No, I saw her die. She was dead for a day and night before they stripped her naked and threw her body in the river. Raymund opened her throat from ear to ear. She was dead. Her cloak and collar hid the gash his brother’s blade had made, but her face was even worse than he remembered. The flesh had gone pudding soft in the water and turned the color of curdled milk. Half her hair was gone and the rest had turned as white and brittle as a crone’s. Beneath her ravaged scalp, her face was shredded skin and black blood where she had raked herself with her nails. But her eyes were the most terrible thing. Her eyes saw him, and they hated. “She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.”
She remembers. The north remembers. The trees remember. Nissa Nissa’s spirit… remembers. Like Nissa Nissa, Catelyn was the victim of foul murder, and her spirit has reason to seek vengeance and many wrongs to right. The spirit-like nature of Lady Stoneheart is emphasized by her wispy white hair and pale skin, as well as the language about the Freys stripping her body naked before throwing it in the river – that line implies that Nissa Nissa has shed her skin. Indeed, the only part of you that can enter the weirwoodnet is your spirit, so that checks out. We can also see signs of the stigmata here – a bloody, carved face, a “red smile,” eyes that hate. She compares well the weirwood in the godswood at Harrenhal that Arya sees:
Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground. The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night. Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk. It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate. Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people? I should pray, she thought suddenly.
The blood red leaves and sap have even turned black, just as Catelyn’s red tears and facial wounds turned black when she became Lady Stoneheart. Even that name, Stoneheart, like heart tree, and of course dead weirwoods even turn to stone after thousands of years.
Lady Stoneheart’s second appearance is even more obvious as some sort of weirwood goddess, as it comes inside the cave full of weirwood roots that the Brotherhood without Banners has made their home.
Lady Stoneheart lowered her hood and unwound the grey wool scarf from her face. Her hair was dry and brittle, white as bone. Her brow was mottled green and grey, spotted with the brown blooms of decay. The flesh of her face clung in ragged strips from her eyes down to her jaw. Some of the rips were crusted with dried blood, but others gaped open to reveal the skull beneath. Her face, Brienne thought. Her face was so strong and handsome, her skin so smooth and soft. “Lady Catelyn? Tears filled her eyes. “They said … they said that you were dead.”
“She is,” said Thoros of Myr. “The Freys slashed her throat from ear to ear. When we found her by the river she was three days dead. Harwin begged me to give her the kiss of life, but it had been too long. I would not do it, so Lord Beric put his lips to hers instead, and the flame of life passed from him to her. And … she rose. May the Lord of Light protect us. She rose.”
There’s the signature grey and green symbolism that seems to relate to the weirwoodnet and the cycle of life, and the word ‘mottled’ is in the same group with dappled, spotted, etc. Most importantly, we observe that Stoneheart was raised from the dead by Thoros passing his “flame of life” to Catelyn with the same fiery kiss of R’hllor which Thoros used to raise Beric from the dead. This spells out Catelyn as what George would call a “fire wight,” which is what he called Beric. This idea is enhanced in this same Brienne chapter when it says
The woman in grey hissed through her fingers. Her eyes were two red pits burning in the shadows.
It’s hard to say if her eyes are literally red and fiery like Melisandre’s appear to be, or if this is firelight reflecting in her eyes and simply descriptive language, but together with her being animated by fire magic, the implication, at least, seems to be clear. She reminds us a lot of the Ghost of High Heart, who has bone white hair and burning red eyes like Stoneheart, and who, like Stoneheart, is a ghost haunting weirwoods in the Riverlands.
Long story short, this all lines up with my perception of the weirwood goddess figure as the ghost of Nissa Nissa, which I see aligned with fire, the greenseers, the Night’s Watch, the green zombies, etc. If the weirwoodnet has a partition, as we are coming to think it may, the weirwood goddess lives in the non-Other side. Additionally, Beric’s Brotherhood without Banners has always seemed like an analog for the Night’s Watch because they defend the people against the marauding Lannisters, and Beric in particular compares to Bloodraven and Jon Snow. Beric serves as the symbolic template for the idea of fiery undead Night’s Watchman, with the fiery scarecrow sentinels from Jon’s Azor Ahai dream comparing perfectly to Beric, the Scarecrow Knight dressed in black who is animated by fire. The Green Zombies have always seemed to be resurrected by the weirwoods – by the weirwood goddess, in other words – just as in classic mythology it is always the triple goddess / moon goddess figure who resurrects the horned lord or green man.
Thus, when the Brotherhood passes from Beric to Lady Stoneheart along with the flame of life, it’s always read to me as more green zombie Night’s Watch stuff, with the living ghost of Catelyn showing us how the ghost of Nissa Nissa powers or orchestrates the Night’s Watch from inside the weirwoodnet.
Unfortunately it’s not so clear cut! Catelyn also has some potential connections to the Corpse Queen of the Night’s King legend, who is the signature ice queen / ice moon woman figure. She’s a corpse, for one thing, and her skin is a pale as milk, which is almost as good as moon pale. Her hair is bone white, and bone white and milk white are both phrases used to describe the Others. Most conspicuously, there are these lines, from the same Brienne AFFC chapter:
Lady Catelyn’s fingers dug deep into her throat, and the words came rattling out, choked and broken, a stream as cold as ice. The northman said, “She says that you must choose. Take the sword and slay the Kingslayer, or be hanged for a betrayer. The sword or the noose, she says. Choose, she says. Choose.”
Now this is obviously figurative language, but that’s just the sort of thing we look at for symbolic associations – and though she might be a fire wight, her speech comes out choked and broken as an icy stream. Even her interpreter is named as a “northman,” which could fit.
There are also a pretty nice Others double entendre here, and although I don’t like to put too much stock in those, using them to confirm rather than establish ideas, but take a look at the description of the cave when Brienne enters at the beginning of this scene:
A fire pit had been dug into the center of the floor, and the air was blue with smoke. Men clustered near the flames, warming themselves against the chill of the cave. Others stood along the walls or sat cross-legged on straw pallets.
This one stands out because of the blue air and the capitalized “Others.” They are even standing along the walls, away from the fire, ha. The Brotherhood has also taken a darker turn under the new leadership, as reflected in these lines:
“My lady,” Thoros said, “I do not doubt that kindness and mercy and forgiveness can still be found somewhere in these Seven Kingdoms, but do not look for them here. This is a cave, not a temple. When men must live like rats in the dark beneath the earth, they soon run out of pity, as they do of milk and honey.”
“And justice? Can that be found in caves?”
“Justice.” Thoros smiled wanly. “I remember justice. It had a pleasant taste. Justice was what we were about when Beric led us, or so we told ourselves. We were king’s men, knights, and heroes … but some knights are dark and full of terror, my lady. War makes monsters of us all.”
Now this could certainly apply to the green zombies I hypothesize, especially since Coldhands is labelled a monster repeatedly by Bran. However it’s also possible George is drawing a distinction here between the two groups.
Now I actually have a good explanation for why Stoneheart’s voice is icy in that quote which can still line up with my original interpretation. It has to do with the sword Oathkeeper, the concept of frozen fire. Recall the similarities between the two favorite weapons of the Night’s Watch to fight the Others: dragonglass, which is called frozen fire and looks like black ice, and Valyrian steel, which is also black (dark-grey to black) and in the case of Ned’s sword Ice, is even “black ice” in a less literal sense. Like dragonglass, Valyrian steel was formed in a molten state, and even once cooled and hardened, seems to possess the power of fire magic. This “black ice / frozen fire” symbol seems to reflect a synthesis of ice and fire but one which plays on team fire.
Think about it like this: obsidian and Valyrian steel are like fire frozen in place, a perfect opposite of the Others, who are animated by an icy power that burns cold. The Night’s Watch use the frozen fire weapons to defeat the burning ice Others. If Lady Stoneheart is the weirwood goddess as she appears to be, and the Brotherhood her Night’s Watch analogues, then perhaps her icy stream of choked words is like that. In particular, I would point to the presence of Oathkeeper in this scene, which is one half of Ned’s black “Ice” sword. Check out that bit:
Another of the outlaws stepped forward, a younger man in a greasy sheepskin jerkin. In his hand was Oathkeeper. “This says it is.” His voice was frosted with the accents of the north. He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in front of Lady Stoneheart. In the light from the firepit the red and black ripples in the blade almost seemed to move, but the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel: a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.
I want you to think about the concept of a sword voice, part of what Ravenous Reader calls the killing word. Oathkeeper’s other half is Widow’s Wail – a sword named after a woman’s cry. But like Oathkeeper, Widow’s Wail is really ice – I think you can see where I am going with this. Catelyn / Stoneheart is a widow with a voice like a stream of icy water, and Widow’s Wail is made of ice and has “waves of night and blood,” meaning… water. Icy water, black and red icy water, etc. Just like that Jon scene at the Wall I love quote from:
Jon Snow turned away. The last light of the sun had begun to fade. He watched the cracks along the Wall go from red to grey to black, from streaks of fire to rivers of black ice.
Red fire and black ice is the same combination we see here in Stoneheart’s cave with Oathkeeper: it’s made from Ned’s black sword Ice, and the red garnets in the eyes of the lion’s head on the pommel shine like red stars. Then in Jon’s Azor Ahai dream… black ice armor, a Valyrian steel sword burning red in his fist. I’ve long pointed to the black ice / red fire combo as a Lightbringer thing that shows a balancing of ice and fire. Finding that combo on Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, well, I’ve always pointed to that as evidence that Martin has been using Ice as a Lightbringer symbol – and of course Arya compares the red comet to Ice covered with Ned’s Blood, so that all fits.
The weirwoods are also a symbol or incarnation of Lightbringer however – they represent the power and fire of the gods, like Lightbringer the sword, and just as the Lightbringer legend has Nissa Nissa’s soul and strength going into the sword, we have found the Nissa Nissa’s soul actually goes into the weirwoods. Lightbringer is a sword that burns without being consumed, and the weirwoods are depicted in symbolic terms as a tree which burns but which is not consumed, like Moses’s burning bush.
With this in mind, consider the parallels between Catelyn, the weirwood goddess, and the swords which used to be Ice, which symbolize Lightbringer. Both Stoneheart and the swords have burning red eyes – the line even suggests a comparison when it says “the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel; a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.” Stoneheart is even a “cat” with burning red eyes, just like the lion’s head pommel. Again, she’s a widow, like Widow’s Wail, and her widow’s voice is like an icy stream, like Widow’s Wail is made of Ned’s “black Ice” and appears to have waves in its steel.
We’ve caught on to the pun contained in the word “justice” – “just Ice,” as in Ned’s ice that he does justice with. In our livechat, Gretchen and Merry made the point that justice can be perceived as a combination of duty and passion, and this maps well to the splitting of Ice into Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, and to the state of the Brotherhood under Lady Stoneheart. So – Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail; duty and passion, the two halves of justice, and of Ned’s Ice. Brienne is the oath-keeper who does her duty, with Stoneheart even telling Brienne to “keep her oath.” Stoneheart herself is basically vengeance and hatred incarnate, and accordingly, Thoros tells Brienne that neither mercy nor justice should not be expected here in the cave. Brienne the Oathkeeper and Stoneheart the Wailing Widow used to be on the same side, but are now opposed, mirroring the splitting of Ice. The pieces are there, but in opposition to each other.
Going back to the quote where Oathkeeper is given to Lady Stoneheart, listen to this part again: “This says it is.” His voice was frosted with the accents of the north. He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in front of Lady Stoneheart.” In between lines about the sword formerly known as ice, he see that the sword-bearer’s voice is frosted with the north. It looks like a case of Martin emphasizing a theme in multiple ways, coming only moments before Stoneheart’s icy voice. Stoneheart’s icy words were a command to take Oathkeeper and kill Jaime, and these words are even described as a sword:
The thing that had been Catelyn Stark took hold of her throat again, fingers pinching at the ghastly long slash in her neck, and choked out more sounds. “Words are wind, she says,” the northman told Brienne. “She says that you must prove your faith.”
“How?” asked Brienne.
“With your sword. Oathkeeper, you call it? Then keep your oath to her, milady says.”
“What does she want of me?”
“She wants her son alive, or the men who killed him dead,” said the big man. “She wants to feed the crows, like they did at the Red Wedding. Freys and Boltons, aye. We’ll give her those, as many as she likes. All she asks from you is Jaime Lannister.”
Jaime. The name was a knife, twisting in her belly.
So, Stoneheart, fire wighted weirwood goddess that she is, has a sword voice like ice. She speaks the name that stabs Brienne like a knife – an icy knife, to be sure. But again, Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, and Ice before them, were “icy knives,” and Stoneheart has one of those too, in this same scene.
Just in case you aren’t convinced, the chapter ends with Brienne being forced to choose the sword or the noose, Brienne refusing and being hung, and then as she’s hung, the chapter ends with her screaming “a word”…. which George R. R. Martin has confirmed was “sword.” To put it simply, words and voices as knives and swords are everywhere in this chapter. Oathkeeper is named after words – an oath, just as Widow’s Wail is named for a scream. And again, the chapter ends with the line “she screamed a word.” That word was “sword,” and it constituted a commitment to keep an oath to Catelyn. An oath to use a sword. That was screamed. Okay you get it!
That to me all lines up with Catelyn as the weirwood goddess, although that blue, smokey air still troubles me. A fire that turns the air blue could be a way of suggesting blue fire, even though it’s the smoke turning the air blue in actuality. Here’s the broader point though: we do know that plenty of Nissa Nissa figures turn into ice queen figures. Sansa at the Eyrie, Cersei imprisoned in the Sept of Baelor, or dying Ygritte, who’s death scene we quoted last episode:
He found Ygritte sprawled across a patch of old snow beneath the Lord Commander’s Tower, with an arrow between her breasts. The ice crystals had settled over her face, and in the moonlight it looked as though she wore a glittering silver mask.
Ygritte is kissed by fire, and plays out Nissa Nissa scenarios with Jon a few times before her death here. But her death, well, that’s the biggest Nissa Nissa moment of them all. She has taken an arrow to the breast, comparable to Azor stabbing Nissa in her bared breast. It isn’t Jon’s, but in his dreams, it is, he thinks to himself. And yet, here is Ygritte putting on an icy, moon-silver mask as she dies. The weirwood faces are very like masks for the greenseer inside them, but this mask is made of ice. It’s like Nissa Nissa being trapped in the icy pond, in the frozen side of the weirwoodnet sea. Again, it’s comparable to Sansa being reborn with a new identity when she goes to the icy Vale, or like Cersei shaving her golden hair as she is imprisoned in the white marble Sept.
This could be explained with some version of the idea “the Corpse Queen / Night’s Queen is undead Nissa Nissa.” And this seems to be true, in some sense… but then we also have this weirwood goddess figure who seems to be fiery – the Ghost of High Heart for sure, and Lady Stoneheart, quite possibly. This has lead to ideas about bifurcation of Nissa Nissa, something we will discuss today. We will also discuss the possibility that Nissa Nissa’s spirit is only temporarily trapped on the icy side of the net – for example, Sansa will leave the hair and let her red hair grow back; Cersei escapes the Sept, grows her hair back, and seems to have wild, fiery plans in her future; and even Ygritte temporarily appears to have returned to fiery life when Jon sees Melisandre as Ygritte in the moonlight, just for a moment.
Ghost of High Heart
The Ghost of High Heart is labelled as an old one in ASOS:
“Tell her,” the lightning lord commanded Thoros. The red priest squatted down beside her. “My lady,” he said, “the Lord granted me a view of Riverrun. An island in a sea of fire, it seemed. The flames were leaping lions with long crimson claws. And how they roared! A sea of Lannisters, my lady. Riverrun will soon come under attack.”
Arya felt as though he’d punched her in the belly. “No!”
“Sweetling,” said Thoros, “the flames do not lie. Sometimes I read them wrongly, blind fool that I am. But not this time, I think. The Lannisters will soon have Riverrun under siege.”
“Robb will beat them.” Arya got a stubborn look. “He’ll beat them like he did before.”
“Your brother may be gone,” said Thoros. “Your mother as well. I did not see them in the flames. This wedding the old one spoke of, a wedding on the Twins … she has her own ways of knowing things, that one. The weirwoods whisper in her ear when she sleeps. If she says your mother is gone to the Twins …”
Ghost of High Heart description:
That night the wind was howling almost like a wolf and there were some real wolves off to the west giving it lessons. Notch, Anguy, and Merrit o’ Moontown had the watch. Ned, Gendry, and many of the others were fast asleep when Arya spied the small pale shape creeping behind the horses, thin white hair flying wild as she leaned upon a gnarled cane. The woman could not have been more than three feet tall. The firelight made her eyes gleam as red as the eyes of Jon’s wolf. He was a ghost too. Arya stole closer, and knelt to watch.
Thoros and Lem were with Lord Beric when the dwarf woman sat down uninvited by the fire. She squinted at them with eyes like hot coals.
This passage loaded with old ones shit; old bones, blood drinking weirwood lady, and more:
She had but a single tooth remaining. “Give me wine or I will go. My bones are old. My joints ache when the winds do blow, and up here the winds are always blowing.”
“A silver stag for your dreams, my lady,” Lord Beric said, with solemn courtesy. “Another if you have news for us.”
“I cannot eat a silver stag, nor ride one. A skin of wine for my dreams, and for my news a kiss from the great oaf in the yellow cloak.” The little woman cackled. “Aye, a sloppy kiss, a bit of tongue. It has been too long, too long. His mouth will taste of lemons, and mine of bones. I am too old.”
“Aye,” Lem complained. “Too old for wine and kisses. All you’ll get from me is the flat of my sword, crone.”
“My hair comes out in handfuls and no one has kissed me for a thousand years. It is hard to be so old. Well, I will have a song then. A song from Tom o’ Sevens, for my news.”
“You will have your song from Tom,” Lord Beric promised. He gave her the wineskin himself. The dwarf woman drank deep, the wine running down her chin. When she lowered the skin, she wiped her mouth with the back of a wrinkled hand and said, “Sour wine for sour tidings, what could be more fitting? The king is dead, is that sour enough for you?”
Arya’s heart caught in her throat.
The Old One has old bones, very nice. She says it twice, as a matter of fact. Here she is demanding a bit of tongue – think of the idea of a flesh-eating weirwood here – and settles for red wine that runs out the corners of her mouth like the bloody mouth of weirwood. She already has the red eyes of course.
What’s interesting is that it is Beric who hands her the blood-red wine, and that I have pointed to as Azor Ahai giving his blood and life to the weirwoods. Similarly, Beric gives his flame of life to dead Catelyn, another weirwood goddess, which points to Stoneheart and the Ghost of High Heart being parallel figures, maybe? Melisandre is another fiery weirwood goddess, and she takes the life fires of Stannis, then wants to do the same with Davos and Jon. The shadowbabies that Mel makes out of these fires seem to parallel the Night’s Watch, men who are black shadows and who are aligned with fire, and again I will say that I have always read Beric’s knights of the hollow hill to parallel the Night’s Watch as well.
In any case, the Ghost of High Heart is the easiest to identify as a weirwood goddess / weirwood ghost figure – clearly, she is not a Corpse Queen / Night’s Queen figure, and clearly, there is no icy symbolism about her. This to me is the place to anchor our idea of the ghost of Nissa Nissa weirwood goddess archetype; this figure leaves little doubt that some part of Nissa Nissa does indeed linger inside the weirwoods. The fact we get a weirwood associated last hero figure, Beric, seeking out the Ghost of the High Heart amongst the weirwood stumps seems like an echo of the last hero seeking out the children of the forest for aid in defeating the Others. That’s who relies on the ghost of Nissa Nissa for aid – the Night’s Watch and the last hero.
Night’s Queen Was an Old One
I have two old ones quotes which both apply to women that seem to be cast as ice associated, Night’s Queen figures, so let’s have a look at those to balance out the picture.
He had liked the look of Craster’s Keep, himself. Craster lived high as a lord there, so why shouldn’t he do the same? That would be a laugh. Chett the leechman’s son, a lord with a keep. His banner could be a dozen leeches on a field of pink. But why stop at lord? Maybe he should be a king. Mance Rayder started out a crow. I could be a king same as him, and have me some wives. Craster had nineteen, not even counting the young ones, the daughters he hadn’t gotten around to bedding yet. Half them wives were as old and ugly as Craster, but that didn’t matter. The old ones Chett could put to work cooking and cleaning for him, pulling carrots and slopping pigs, while the young ones warmed his bed and bore his children.
So, first of all, fuck Chett, he’s a good candidate to go far in the ASOIAF March Madness least favorite characters tournament. Second of all, Craster’s “wives” are obvious “mother of the Others” women, and Craster a white-walker-spawning Night’s King figure – and as we can see, this is a hub of Old Ones activity. In the last episode, we looked at all the evidence that the Others have an origin with the Green Men, who seem to be the Old Ones, and here we see the implication that Night’s Queen, the first mother of the Others, was in some sense an Old One.
Here’s a similar quote about the daughters of Walder Frey, another Night’s King figure with obvious parallels to Craster:
Your family has always pissed on me, don’t deny it, don’t lie, you know it’s true. Years ago, I went to your father and suggested a match between his son and my daughter. Why not? I had a daughter in mind, sweet girl, only a few years older than Edmure, but if your brother didn’t warm to her, I had others he might have had, young ones, old ones, virgins, widows, whatever he wanted. No, Lord Hoster would not hear of it. Sweet words he gave me, excuses, but what I wanted was to get rid of a daughter.
The notable things here are that this is the scene where Robb promises to marry a Frey woman, and the haunting presence of the horned moon outside the castle:
The rest was only haggling. A swollen red sun hung low against the western hills when the gates of the castle opened. The drawbridge creaked down, the portcullis winched up, and Lady Catelyn Stark rode forth to rejoin her son and his lords bannermen.
And then a moment later when Cat relates the details of the agreement to Robb:
“I consent,” Robb said solemnly. He had never seemed more manly to her than he did in that moment. Boys might play with swords, but it took a lord to make a marriage pact, knowing what it meant.
They crossed at evenfall as a horned moon floated upon the river. The double column wound its way through the gate of the eastern twin like a great steel snake, slithering across the courtyard, into the keep and over the bridge, to issue forth once more from the second castle on the west bank. Catelyn rode at the head of the serpent, with her son and her uncle Ser Brynden and Ser Stevron Frey. Behind followed nine tenths of their horse; knights, lancers, freeriders, and mounted bowmen. It took hours for them all to cross. Afterward, Catelyn would remember the clatter of countless hooves on the drawbridge, the sight of Lord Walder Frey in his litter watching them pass, the glitter of eyes peering down through the slats of the murder holes in the ceiling as they rode through the Water Tower.
Lots to discuss there in the details, and what stands out are heavenly bodies – the swollen, dying sun setting in the western hills, and then the horned moon floating on the waters. I also like how it says “it takes a lord to make a pact” and then immediately after the line about the horned moon. Robb is the pact-making horned lord here, and he’s unfortunately also sealing his own fate at the Red Wedding, which you can see foreshadowed here by the eyes peering through the murder holes. His army is a great steel serpent, and one wonders if George is paring the snake and the horned lord symbolism in imitation of the snake which Cernunnos usually holds.
So that’s what we have for Night’s Queen figures who carry the epithet “Old One.” Some discussion points here might be what the implications of Robb promising to marry one woman and then marrying another here might be, as well as the implications of Craster’s wives as Old Ones who are kept in some sort of slavery or thralldom, with Gilly being the one who escaped.
A couple of parallel figures to note: Morna White Mask, for one, who is a wildling:
The warrior witch Morna removed her weirwood mask just long enough to kiss his gloved hand and swear to be his man or his woman, whichever he preferred.
Interestingly, Jon later confers Queensgate on Morna White Mask, which used to be named Snowgate before another ice queen figure, Alysanne Targaryen, visited it and it was renamed in her honor. Both the idea of a Queen’s gate and a snow gate are intriguing, since the Black Gate weirwood face at the Nightfort may have been used to smuggle out the children of Night’s King and Queen to the Others. Those children might be thought as bastards – as “Snows,” like Jon, and of course they are turned into beings of ice and snow, the Others. The weirwood itself is a gate of course, and so here is this person with a weirwood mask in charge of “Queensgate.”
Val is another weirwood-associated ice queen:
“Did you follow me as well?” Jon reached to shoo the bird away but ended up stroking its feathers. The raven cocked its eye at him. “Snow,” it muttered, bobbing its head knowingly. Then Ghost emerged from between two trees, with Val beside him.
They look as though they belong together. Val was clad all in white; white woolen breeches tucked into high boots of bleached white leather, white bearskin cloak pinned at the shoulder with a carved weirwood face, white tunic with bone fastenings. Her breath was white as well … but her eyes were blue, her long braid the color of dark honey, her cheeks flushed red from the cold. It had been a long while since Jon Snow had seen a sight so lovely.
A white weirwood woman with blue eyes, a match for the weirwood wolf with red eyes. Pale shadows of ice and fire, if you will. Then there is this quote:
The road beneath the Wall was as dark and cold as the belly of an ice dragon and as twisty as a serpent. Dolorous Edd led them through with a torch in hand. Mully had the keys for the three gates, where bars of black iron as thick as a man’s arm closed off the passage. Spearmen at each gate knuckled their foreheads at Jon Snow but stared openly at Val and her garron.
When they emerged north of the Wall, through a thick door made of freshly hewn green wood, the wildling princess paused for a moment to gaze out across the snow-covered field where King Stannis had won his battle. Beyond, the haunted forest waited, dark and silent. The light of the half-moon turned Val’s honey-blond hair a pale silver and left her cheeks as white as snow. She took a deep breath. “The air tastes sweet.”
“My tongue is too numb to tell. All I can taste is cold.”
“Cold?” Val laughed lightly. “No. When it is cold it will hurt to breathe. When the Others come …”
Interesting that Val and Jon pass through the belly of the ice dragon together, and when they emerge north of the Wall – where Night’s King saw his queen – Val gets the Night’s Queen treatment. Moon-pale and snow-white, and seemingly unperturbed by the extreme cold. Val is also able to come and go in the Haunted Forest without fear or danger, seemingly. It’s a great scene, and once again it clues us into the idea that the Night’s Queen / ice queen figures have a strong connection to the weirwoods.
Gretchen points out all the icy womb talk with tese two women, Morna and Val. A “queen’s gate” is a euphemism for a birth canal, the gate out of a woman’s womb. Ultimately we are taking “Snowgate” and “Queensgate” as giving us clues about the Black Gate weirwood face, so and of course if babies were smuggled through the Black Gate… it’s even functioning as a birth canal – a cold one. Gilly’s Monster is smuggled back through that same gate, and Bran, still a child, goes through it as well.
Then we have the idea of passing through the belly of the ice dragon when Val and Jon walk through the Wall. The words “belly” and “tummy” can be used to refer to a womb, and often are by George, so this is like being born out of the womb of the ice dragon. This lines up well with the idea of the Wall as a symbol of a partition or the “veil of tears.”
With all this cold womb talk, one thinks of the girl Adara from Martin’s book “The Ice Dragon.” Some sort of magic cold stole into her mother’s womb, and Adar was born like a young Night’s Queen, with blue eyes and cold skin and whatnot. She also had the ability to befriend and bond with an ice dragon, and these ideas factored into Durran Durrandon’s theory about Night’s Queen being more like a cold version of Melisandre (The One God, Two Gods, Red God, Blue essay, which formed the basis of my own “Prelude to a Chill”).
Thistle the wildling does not get the “Old One” treatment, but she is absolutely central to the Nissa Nissa-to-Night’s Queen transformation idea, so we have to review her weirwood stigmata scene in brief. The first thing to note is the weirwood tree being Otherized:
He could see the humped shapes of other huts buried beneath drifts of snow, and beyond them the pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice.
This is an important symbol, because the weirwoods usually are described as bone white, with leaves like bloody hands or a blaze of flame, but here there is no talk of blood or fire, but instead, the tree is described like an Other; a pale shadow armored in ice. It gets even worse after everyone dies and the wights move in:
Below, the world had turned to ice. Fingers of frost crept slowly up the weirwood, reaching out for each other. The empty village was no longer empty. Blue-eyed shadows walked amongst the mounds of snow.
Fingers of frost are like the opposite of the bloody / fiery hand symbol of the weirwoods, completing the transformation idea here. The weirwoodnet – or at least some part of it – is freezing over! Of course this happens right after Thistle is transformed – and her transformation mirrors that of the tree. When Varamyr invades her, she gets the most horrible kind of vivid weirwood stigmata, biting off her tongue, clawing at her eyes and weeping tears of blood, etc. The tongue is important, because that creates the silent weirwood / silenced woman symbolism. But then, after everything freezes over and the wights move in…
The things below moved, but did not live. One by one, they raised their heads toward the three wolves on the hill. The last to look was the thing that had been Thistle. She wore wool and fur and leather, and over that she wore a coat of hoarfrost that crackled when she moved and glistened in the moonlight. Pale pink icicles hung from her fingertips, ten long knives of frozen blood. And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life. She sees me.
Alright, it’s a beautiful corpse lady with blue star eyes and icy skin the glistens in the moonlight! That’s our Night’s Queen figure alright. But wasn’t she just turning into a weirwood and dying a Nissa Nissa death? Well, pretty much, yes! Of course, this is “the thing that had been Thistle,” not Thistle’s ghost, although we are really getting into fictional metaphysics here and it’s always a bit squishy. But that’s what’s at the heart of the bifurcation idea, that there may be separate paths for Nissa Nissa’s spirit and body, something like that.
Another noteworthy detail: those ten long pink knives of frozen blood. Those are essentially ice swords, and bloody ones at that…. and that compares very well to Lady Stoneheart holding Oathkeeper, which is one half of Ned’s “Ice” sword, now dyed partially blood-red. Both Stoneheart and wighted Thistle have bloody ice swords, to put it simply, and that’s really something. Thistle’s knives are pale pink and made of ice while Oathkeeper is dark red and black, and made of steel, so there are notable differences, but they are definitely parallel symbols in some sense. To that I might add the glamoured Lightbringer Mel conjures up for Stannis; it’s icy in that it gives off no heat unless coated in wildfire, so it’s a cold Lightbringer sword, which is kind of similar.
One last parallel between frozen Thistle and the frozen weirwood: they both seem to see and judge Waymar. “She sees me” was the last line of this epic ADWD prologue, and right bfore Varamyr tries to bodysnatch Thistle, we read
Varamyr could see the weirwood’s red eyes staring down at him from the white trunk. The gods are weighing me. A shiver went through him. He had done bad things, terrible things.
So there you have it – Thistle is a weirwood goddess figure who ends up as the Night’s Queen. She turns from fiery, or at least warm, to icy, mirroring the freezing weirwood in the scene. Thistle’s coat of hoarfrost is very like the mask Ygritte wears when she dies and turns cold: “The ice crystals had settled over her face, and in the moonlight it looked as though she wore a glittering silver mask.”
Sansa’s Murder Dress
Here’s a fun one – Sansa’s murder dress. Meaning, the one she wears at the “Purple Wedding” when the Tyrells use the strangler poison disguised as a fake amethyst planted in Sansa’s hairnet to murder Joffrey at his wedding to Margarey. We aren’t actually told what the dress looks like, but it’s labelled as an old one in this quote here:
She would wear her new gown for the ceremony at the Great Sept of Baelor, she decided as the seamstress took her last measurement. That must be why Cersei is having it made for me, so I will not look shabby at the wedding. She really ought to have a different gown for the feast afterward but she supposed one of her old ones would do. She did not want to risk getting food or wine on the new one. I must take it with me to Highgarden. She wanted to look beautiful for Willas Tyrell. Even if Dontos was right, and it is Winterfell he wants and not me, he still may come to love me for myself. Sansa hugged herself tightly, wondering how long it would be before the gown was ready. She could scarcely wait to wear it.
The old one dress is the one she is wearing to the feast after the wedding – and that is of course where Joffrey is murdered. Still, nothing really jumped out at me here until I considered that this would be the dress she is wearing when she flees Kings Landing after Joffrey’s murder, and check out the quote where she stashes the dress in a tree in the godswood:
The gods are just, thought Sansa. Robb had died at a wedding feast as well. It was Robb she wept for. Him and Margaery. Poor Margaery, twice wed and twice widowed. Sansa slid her arm from a sleeve, pushed down the gown, and wriggled out of it. She balled it up and shoved it into the bole of an oak, shook out the clothing she had hidden there.
We’ll read the rest of this passage in a moment, but I want to cut in here to point out the obvious – Sansa is shedding her “old ones” skin and leaving it inside the trees, then pulling a new skin from the trees and putting it on. Said another way, a changing of skins is being facilitated by the trees, and her starting point was “Old One.” This is simply another way of saying that Nissa Nissa was an Old One, meaning a green woman, which might just mean child of the forest or child / human hybrid, we can’t know for sure. This is the skin she is shedding here, which is part of her death transformation. These are more clues about Nissa Nissa dying, but going into the woods as a kind of escape… and then perhaps journeying somewhere else.
Dress warmly, Ser Dontos had told her, and dress dark. She had no blacks, so she chose a dress of thick brown wool. The bodice was decorated with freshwater pearls, though. The cloak will cover them. The cloak was a deep green, with a large hood. She slipped the dress over her head, and donned the cloak, though she left the hood down for the moment. There were shoes as well, simple and sturdy, with flat heels and square toes. The gods heard my prayer, she thought. She felt so numb and dreamy. My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel. (ASOS, Sansa)
As you can clearly tell from the last line, this is a transformation scene for Sansa, coming just when you’d expect one – as she finally escapes captivity and goes into hiding, with her about to take a new name of Alayne Stone, as we know. From porcelain and ivory to steel, in astronomy terms, reflects a moon turning into moon meteors, the ones containing iron ore to make steel swords. Even more clear is the name change – Sansa is turning into a “Stone,” which is as good a clue as you are going to find. So, Sansa fleeing from Kings Landing and turning into a Stone represents a moon exploding and turning into moon meteors, which fly away from the explosion. And don’t forget that funny little rumor running around that “she killed the king with a spell, and afterward changed into a wolf with big leather wings like a bat, and flew out a tower window.” This is very similar to a moon cracking open to birth dragons, except it’s a woman transforming into a ‘scary’ flying animal instead of a moon. Whether she’s a flying wolf bat or a flying stone, she’s going to “land,” so to speak, in the ice and snow of the Vale, which represents the ice moon. This is essentially the dragon locked in ice path, just with a female character.
In terms of archetypes, this is an example of Nissa Nissa seeming to transform into the Night’s Queen. At the very least, she is becoming frozen and even corpse-like as she climbs down the ladder, boards the Merling King, and sails to the Fingers and then journeys to the icy Eyrie. This is either Nissa Nissa being locked in ice, as in “on the Others frozen side of the weirwoodnet”, or this represents some part of Nissa Nissa becoming Night’s Queen. There is simply no question in my mind that Sansa taking on an entirely new identity in the icy Vale is telling us something specific about the Nissa Nissa archetype.
This passage describing Sansa’s assumption of the Alayne Stone identity, to me, sounds like Sansa skinchanging the corpse of a dead girl. Take a look, and keep in mind that only a few pages before this, she thinks to herself that she “must look as haggard as a corpse.” This is Petyr coming up with Sansa’s fake backstory here:
“Alayne … Stone, would it be?” When he nodded, she said, “But who is my mother?”
“Please no,” she said, mortified.
“I was teasing. Your mother was a gentlewoman of Braavos, daughter of a merchant prince. We met in Gulltown when I had charge of the port. She died giving you birth, and entrusted you to the Faith. I have some devotional books you can look over. Learn to quote from them. Nothing discourages unwanted questions as much as a flow of pious bleating. In any case, at your flowering you decided you did not wish to be a septa and wrote to me. That was the first I knew of your existence.” He fingered his beard. “Do you think you can remember all that?”
“I hope. It will be like playing a game, won’t it?”
“Are you fond of games, Alayne?”
The new name would take some getting used to. “Games? I … I suppose it would depend …”
This fake identity of Alayne Stone is essentially a person who doesn’t really exist; so to me that’s like a shell of a person, like a corpse that a different soul can steal. This fake person, Alayne Stone, grew in care of the Faith of the Seven, training to be a Septa, which is essentially like being raised on ice moon world. We tend to associate things having to do with the Faith with “team ice,” for lack of a better word, because that’s just what George seems to be doing. with all the snowy white marble and crystalline everything and the sigil of the Warrior’s Sons and so on and so forth. This identity has been kept on ice, in other words, waiting for Sansa to slip into it.
One might compare the empty Alayne Stone identity to the Eyrie itself:
The garden had been meant for a godswood once, she knew, but the soil was too thin and stony for a weirwood to take root. A godswood without gods, as empty as me.
Oh, look, Martin is actually comparing Sansa to the Eyrie – or at least, to the godswood. It’s described as empty, and the castle is empty as well, and this is the longer description of the Eyrie from AFFC:
Old snow cloaked the courtyard, and icicles hung down like crystal spears from the terraces and towers. The Eyrie was built of fine white stone, and winter’s mantle made it whiter still. So beautiful, Alayne thought, so impregnable. She could not love this place, no matter how she tried. Even before the guards and serving men had made their descent, the castle had seemed as empty as a tomb, and more so when Petyr Baelish was away. No one sang up there, not since Marillion. No one ever laughed too loud. Even the gods were silent. The Eyrie boasted a sept, but no septon; a godswood, but no heart tree. No prayers are answered here, she often thought, though some days she felt so lonely she had to try. Only the wind answered her, sighing endlessly around the seven slim white towers and rattling the Moon Door every time it gusted. It will be even worse in winter, she knew. In winter this will be a cold white prison.
As I have joked before, Sansa as the weirwood goddess figure
Cersei the Old Queen
Before reading this, note that Gyles Rosby is elsewhere labelled as an Old One, and has symbolism to back it up.
Thanks to Stannis and his filthy letter, there were already too many rumors concerning Tommen’s parentage. Cersei dared not fan the fires by insisting that he drape his bride in Lannister crimson, so she yielded as gracefully as she could. But the sight of all that gold and onyx still filled her with resentment. The more we give these Tyrells, the more they demand of us.
When all the vows were spoken, the king and his new queen stepped outside the sept to accept congratulations. “Westeros has two queens now, and the young one is as beautiful as the old one,” boomed Lyle Crakehall, an oaf of a knight who oft reminded Cersei of her late and unlamented husband. She could have slapped him. Gyles Rosby made to kiss her hand, and only succeeded in coughing on her fingers. (AFFC, CERSEI)
Cersei Ice Queen quotes
First appearance in AGOT, Jon observing Cersei at the feast in Winterfell:
Two seats away, the king had been drinking heavily all night. His broad face was flushed behind his great black beard. He made many a toast, laughed loudly at every jest, and attacked each dish like a starving man, but beside him the queen seemed as cold as an ice sculpture. “The queen is angry too,” Jon told his uncle in a low, quiet voice. “Father took the king down to the crypts this afternoon. The queen didn’t want him to go.”
ASOS, Tywin telling Cersei to remarry:
“The Tyrell heir would be my choice,” Lord Tywin concluded, “but if you would prefer another, I will hear your reasons.”
“That is so very kind of you, Father,” Cersei said with icy courtesy. “It is such a difficult choice you give me. Who would I sooner take to bed, the old squid or the crippled dog boy? I shall need a few days to consider. Do I have your leave to go?”
You are the queen, Tyrion wanted to tell her. He ought to be begging leave of you.
Oh, I pray the Seven will not let it rain upon the king’s wedding,” Jocelyn Swyft said as she laced up the queen’s gown.
“No one wants rain,” said Cersei. For herself, she wanted sleet and ice, howling winds, thunder to shake the very stones of the Red Keep. She wanted a storm to match her rage. To Jocelyn she said, “Tighter. Cinch it tighter, you simpering little fool.”
It was the wedding that enraged her, though the slow-witted Swyft girl made a safer target. Tommen’s hold upon the Iron Throne was not secure enough for her to risk offending Highgarden. Not so long as Stannis Baratheon held Dragonstone and Storm’s End, so long as Riverrun continued in defiance, so long as ironmen prowled the seas like wolves. So Jocelyn must needs eat the meal Cersei would sooner have served to Margaery Tyrell and her hideous wrinkled grandmother.
Right before she is arrested:
“No,” said the High Septon.
It was only a word, one little word, but to Cersei it felt like a splash of icy water in the face. She blinked, and her certainty flickered, just a little. “Ser Osney will be held securely, I promise you.”
“He is held securely here. Come. I will show you.”
Cersei could feel the eyes of the Seven staring at her, eyes of jade and malachite and onyx, and a sudden shiver of fear went through her, cold as ice. I am the queen, she told herself. Lord Tywin’s daughter. Reluctantly, she followed.
Ser Osney was not far. The chamber was dark, and closed by a heavy iron door. The High Septon produced the key to open it, and took a torch down from the wall to light the room within. “After you, Your Grace.”
( . . . )
Osney Kettleblack opened his eyes. When he saw the queen standing there before him he ran his tongue across his swollen lips, and said, “The Wall. You promised me the Wall.”
“He is mad,” said Cersei. “You have driven him mad.”
“Ser Osney,” said the High Septon, in a firm, clear voice, “did you have carnal knowledge of the queen?”
“Aye.” The chains rattled softly as Osney twisted in his shackles. “That one there. She’s the queen I fucked, the one sent me to kill the old High Septon. He never had no guards. I just come in when he was sleeping and pushed a pillow down across his face.”
So here’s cersei promising someone the Wall, very interesting. She’s also been exposed as someone orchestrating the supplanting of one High Septon for another, with the High Septon representing the leader or ruler of the ice moon / frozen part of the weirwoodnet. Shades of Sansa supplanting Lysa perhaps? The scene continues:
Cersei whirled, and ran. The High Septon tried to seize her, but he was some old sparrow and she was a lioness of the Rock. She pushed him aside and burst through the door, slamming it behind her with a clang. The Kettleblacks, I need the Kettleblacks, I will send in Osfryd with the gold cloaks and Osmund with the Kingsguard, Osney will deny it all once they cut him free, and I’ll rid myself of this High Septon just as I did the other. The four old septas blocked her way and clutched at her with wrinkled hands. She knocked one to the floor and clawed another across the face, and gained the steps. Halfway up, she remembered Taena Merryweather. It made her stumble, panting. Seven save me, she prayed. Taena knows it all. If they take her too, and whip her …
She ran as far as the Sept, but no farther. There were women waiting for her there, more septas and silent sisters too, younger than the four old crones below. “I am the queen,” she shouted, backing away from them. “I will have your heads for this, I will have all your heads. Let me pass.” Instead, they laid hands upon her. Cersei ran to the altar of the Mother, but they caught her there, a score of them, and dragged her kicking up the tower steps.
Inside the cell three silent sisters held her down as a septa named Scolera stripped her bare. She even took her smallclothes. Another septa tossed a roughspun shift at her. “You cannot do this,” the queen kept screaming at them. “I am a Lannister, unhand me, my brother will kill you, Jaime will slice you open from throat to cunt, unhand me! I am the queen!”
“The queen should pray,” said Septa Scolera, before they left her naked in the cold bleak cell.
( . . . )
She screamed and kicked and howled until her throat was raw, at the door and at the window. No one shouted back, nor came to rescue her. The cell began to darken. It was growing cold as well. Cersei began to shiver. How can they leave me like this, without so much as a fire? I am their queen.
( . . . )
An hour and an hour and an hour. So passed the longest night that Cersei Lannister had ever known, save for the night of Joffrey’s wedding. Her throat was so raw from shouting that she could hardly swallow. The cell turned freezing cold. She had smashed the chamber pot, so she had to squat in a corner to make her water and watch it trickle across the floor. Every time she closed her eyes, Unella was looming over her again, shaking her and asking her if she wanted to confess her sins.
( . . )
It was near dawn on the second day and Cersei was licking the last of the porridge from the bottom of the bowl when her cell door swung open unexpectedly to admit Lord Qyburn. It was all she could do not to throw herself at him. “Qyburn,” she whispered, “oh, gods, I am so glad to see your face. Take me home.” “That will not be allowed. You are to be tried before a holy court of seven, for murder, treason, and fornication.”
Before the walk of shame:
Barefoot and shivering she paced, a thin blanket draped about her shoulders. She was anxious for the day to come. By evening it would all be done. A little walk and I’ll be home, I’ll be back with Tommen, in my own chambers inside Maegor’s Holdfast. Her uncle said it was the only way to save herself. Was it, though? She could not trust her uncle, no more than she trusted this High Septon. I could still refuse. I could still insist upon my innocence and hazard all upon a trial.
( . . . )
When her gaolers came for her, Septa Unella, Septa Moelle, and Septa Scolera led the procession. With them were four novices and two of the silent sisters. The sight of the silent sisters in their grey robes filled the queen with sudden terrors. Why are they here? Am I to die? The silent sisters attended to the dead. “The High Septon promised that no harm would come to me.” “Nor will it.” Septa Unella beckoned to the novices. They brought lye soap, a basin of warm water, a pair of shears, and a long straightrazor. The sight of the steel sent a shiver through her.
( . . . )
The elder of the two silent sisters took up the shears. A practiced barber, no doubt; her order often cleaned the corpses of the noble slain before returning them to their kin, and trimming beards and cutting hair was part of that. The woman bared the queen’s head first. Cersei sat as still as a stone statue as the shears clicked. Drifts of golden hair fell to the floor. She had not been allowed to tend it properly penned up in this cell, but even unwashed and tangled it shone where the sun touched it. My crown, the queen thought. They took the other crown away from me, and now they are stealing this one as well. When her locks and curls were piled up around her feet, one of the novices soaped her head and the silent sister scraped away the stubble with a razor.
Cersei hoped that would be the end of it, but no. “Remove your shift, Your Grace,” Septa Unella commanded.
“Here?” the queen asked. “Why?”
“You must be shorn.”
Shorn, she thought, like a sheep. She yanked the shift over her head and tossed it to the floor. “Do what you will.”
When the silent sister crept between her legs with the razor, Cersei found herself remembering all the times that Jaime had knelt where she was kneeling now, planting kisses on the inside of her thighs, making her wet. His kisses were always warm. The razor was ice-cold.
( . . . )
One of the novices had brought a robe for her, a soft white septa’s robe to cover her as she made her way down the tower steps and through the sept, so any worshipers they met along the way might be spared the sight of naked flesh. Seven save us all, what hypocrites they are. “Will I be permitted a pair of sandals?” she asked. “The streets are filthy.”
“Not so filthy as your sins,” said Septa Moelle. “His High Holiness has commanded that you present yourself as the gods made you. Did you have sandals on your feet when you came forth from your lady mother’s womb?”
“No, septa,” the queen was forced to say.
“Then you have your answer.”
( . . . )
The Great Sept of Baelor was crowded with faithful come for the dawn service, the sound of their prayers echoing off the dome overhead, but when the queen’s procession made its appearance a sudden silence fell and a thousand eyes turned to follow her as she made her way down the aisle, past the place where her lord father had lain in state after his murder. Cersei swept by them, looking neither right nor left. Her bare feet slapped against the cold marble floor. She could feel the eyes. Behind their altars, the Seven seemed to watch as well.
In the Hall of Lamps, a dozen Warrior’s Sons awaited her coming. Rainbow cloaks hung down their backs, and the crystals that crested their greathelms glittered in the lamplight. Their armor was silver plate polished to a mirror sheen, but underneath, she knew, every man of them wore a hair shirt. Their kite shields all bore the same device: a crystal sword shining in the darkness, the ancient badge of those the smallfolk called Swords. Their captain knelt before her. “Perhaps Your Grace will recall me. I am Ser Theodan the True, and His High Holiness has given me command of your escort. My brothers and I will see you safely through the city.”
Cersei’s gaze swept across the faces of the men behind him. And there he was: Lancel, her cousin, Ser Kevan’s son, who had once professed to love her, before he decided that he loved the gods more. My blood and my betrayer. She would not forget him. “You may rise, Ser Theodan. I am ready.” The knight stood, turned, raised a hand. Two of his men stepped to the towering doors and pushed them open, and Cersei walked through them into the open air, blinking at the sunlight like a mole roused from its burrow.
( . . . )
And mingled in with them were the Poor Fellows, filthy, unshaven creatures armed with spears and axes and clad in bits of dinted plate, rusted mail, and cracked leather, under roughspun surcoats bleached white and blazoned with the seven-pointed star of the Faith. The High Sparrow’s ragged army.
Widow of the Waterfront
And then there was the smell. It hung in the hot, humid air, rich, rank, pervasive. There’s fish in it, and flowers, and some elephant dung as well. Something sweet and something earthy and something dead and rotten. “This city smells like an old whore,” Tyrion announced. “Like some sagging slattern who has drenched her privy parts in perfume to drown the stench between her legs. Not that I am complaining. With whores, the young ones smell much better, but the old ones know more tricks.”
“You would know more of that than I do.”
“Ah, of course. That brothel where we met, did you take it for a sept? Was that your virgin sister squirming in your lap?”
That made him scowl. “Give that tongue of yours a rest unless you’d rather I tied it in a knot.”
Seeing a running association between the septas and sex workers, weirdly. Temple sex workers, perhaps? Like in Meereen? Cersei came out of the sept being called the w-word.
Ser Clarence Crabb supposedly tied a dragon’s neck in a knot so he roasted his own ass, Tyrion = Targaryen confirmed
Farther on, they fell in behind a smaller elephant, white as old bone and pulling an ornate cart. “Is an oxcart an oxcart without an ox?”
Martin, George R. R.. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5) (p. 388). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
(Widow of the Waterfront chapter, she’s an “old wh—“) by her own word. And a heck of a ww goddess figure.
Hey there fellow myth heads of the starry host! Whether you’re watching on YouTube or listening via podcast, or even reading the text right off the screen at lucifermeanslightbringer.com, allow me to be your starry host and your guide to the mythical astronomy of A Song of Ice and Fire. My name is LmL and I am here to tell you about old gods of the weirwood – or is it the Cold Gods? The Old Ones, or the Cold Ones? Old Ones, or old bones?
Yeah, it’s gonna be one of those episodes.
Lately we’ve been following the trail of the Green Men, who seem to be the same thing as the Old Ones. We’ve been doing that by taking a hard look at every scene where the phrase “old ones” appears, and so far, it’s been quite fruitful! We’ve done two episodes like that, and one of the most interesting conclusions it has lead to is that the Others are, in some sense, former Green Men. In particular, some part of the Others that we see is comprised of the spirits of the oldest, most original greenseers, the ones who were inside the weirwoodnet before Azor Ahai invaded it. We’ve been seeing the Others as some sort of exiled tree spirits for a long time, so when saw all these have a quotes connecting the Old Ones to Garth people (or stag boys as Sanrixian likes to say), and once we began seeing them as the original greenseers, it was only natural to make that connection.
Would you like to see a depiction of Azor Ahai killing Garth and turning his trees into the Others? Yes? Well, I am so glad you do. I might have included this in the last episode, but it was full up.
I’m talking about Renly’s murder by Stannis’s shadow of course, a scene that Catelyn witness in ACOK. Renly is the quintessential Green Man / Garth figure in this scene, and his throat is cut in the manner of ritual sacrifices, I think we all understand that. Most notable are these lines:
The king’s armor was a deep green, the green of leaves in a summer wood, so dark it drank the candlelight. Gold highlights gleamed from inlay and fastenings like distant fires in that wood, winking every time he moved.
Renly is a summer king and a Garth figure, but what’s all this about a dark wood? “A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood…” Well, as long as there is fire in that wood, we are probably safe.
Take a look at what Cat sees before she enters Renly’s tent:
They rode in silence through sparse woodland where the trees leaned drunkenly away from the sea. The nervous whinny of horses and the clank of steel guided them back to Renly’s camp. The long ranks of man and horse were armored in darkness, as black as if the Smith had hammered night itself into steel. There were banners to her right, banners to her left, and rank on rank of banners before her, but in the predawn gloom, neither colors nor sigils could be discerned. A grey army, Catelyn thought. Grey men on grey horses beneath grey banners. As they sat their horses waiting, Renly’s shadow knights pointed their lances upward, so she rode through a forest of tall naked trees, bereft of leaves and life. Where Storm’s End stood was only a deeper darkness, a wall of black through which no stars could shine, but she could see torches moving across the fields where Lord Stannis had made his camp.
The candles within Renly’s pavilion made the shimmering silken walls seem to glow, transforming the great tent into a magical castle alive with emerald light. Two of the Rainbow Guard stood sentry at the door to the royal pavilion. The green light shone strangely against the purple plums of Ser Parmen’s surcoat, and gave a sickly hue to the sunflowers that covered every inch of Ser Emmon’s enameled yellow plate. Long silken plumes flew from their helms, and rainbow cloaks draped their shoulders.
So, we have Renly’s magical green castle, alive with light, but it’s surrounded by an army that is like a forest of leafless black trees made of night-black steel. This is ominous, as is the sickly hue the green light gives the yellow sunflowers on the knight’s armor. Cernunnos is a solar deity, and so the sickening of the sun symbolism here is simply a prelude to Renly’s flame of life being extinguished. In fact, once can imagine darkness sweeping through the army of leafless black trees and arriving at Renly’s tent, which is soon turned cold and dark as Renly is killed: “Death came in that door and blew the life out of him as swift as the wind snuffed out his candles.”
Renly’s death is equivalent to the darkening of the sun, in mythical astronomy terms, and the sun is darkening by the smoke, ash, and soot from the fire moon’s explosion. What kills Renly? The shadowbaby assassin of course. You can see how perfectly that fits – the shadow that kills the sun comes from a fire moon figure, Melisandre, who has just been impregnated by an Azor Ahai figure, Stannis. And when we look over in the direction of Stannis’s army, from whence the sun-darkening shadowbaby came, we see a symbol of the rising smoke cloud: Storm’s End, “a deeper darkness, a wall of black through which no stars could shine.” Storm’s end is elsewhere described as looking like a rising fist, the signature description of the mushroom cloud symbol.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
Setting the astronomy aside to consider archetypes, we see that Stannis Ahai gives his dragon seed to Melissa Nissa, who births the shadow and darkness which blots out solar king Renly. Stannis is also showing us a solar king turning dark – the shadow baby is literally a black shadow version of King Stannis, complete with black shadowsword. That’s what shows up in Renly’s tent- the evil version of Azor Ahai. Stannis’s shadow invades the magical, alive-with-light green castle, which I take to be a model of the undefiled weirwoodnet, as is Renly himself (just as Cernunnos is an embodiment of the forest and of green nature). A cool detail: Renly’s neck wound becomes a bloody weirwood mouth:
Renly’s head rolled sickeningly to one side, and a second mouth yawned wide, the blood coming from him now in slow pulses.
This spells out the red smile symbolism is grisly fashion, showing that throat cutting is meant to evoke the bloody smile of the weirwood trees. Once again I will say that I believe that the idea of carving the faces on weirwood trees was only done when Azor Ahai invaded the weirwoodnet, and not before, and that it was done to allow Azor to gain entrance to the trees.
So, shadow Stannis kills Renly and brings death to the magical green castle, an act which symbolizes Azor Ahai’s penetration of the weirwoodnet…
…and then Stannis steals Renly’s tree army!
But, as they go over to Stannis in the cold dawn air, they undergo transformation, and now they sound like the Others:
Renly’s battles were already coming apart as the rumors spread from mouth to mouth. The nightfires had burned low, and as the east began to lighten the immense mass of Storm’s End emerged like a dream of stone while wisps of pale mist raced across the field, flying from the sun on wings of wind. Morning ghosts, she had heard Old Nan call them once, spirits returning to their graves. And Renly one of them now, gone like his brother Robert, like her own dear Ned.
The Others are described by Tormund as cold mists with teeth, and wisp is a word that can mean ghost. Indeed, the pale wisps are called morning ghosts right in the story, and those are representations of the Others. They are flying away from the sun, just as the Others seem to be like vampires who cannot bear the touch of the sun, and just as Renly – now one of the morning ghosts like his brother Robert – has turned from a warm solar king to a cold corpse. At the risk of stating the obvious – Robert and Renly, our signature stag boys, have become symbolic Others.
This is all occurring as Cat and Brienne emerge into the “chill of dawn,” making this yet another example of the long-running association between the sword Dawn and the Others. Indeed, consider the fact that Renly has a Rainbow Guard, since rainbows are associated with crystals and ice. A rainbow guard is actually the same exact idea as Robert having a Kingsguard of Otherish white knights. Individually, the rainbow guard is very colorful, but taken together, they make a rainbow, which is part of the ice and crystal family of symbolism.
The quote continues a moment later with this:
As the long fingers of dawn fanned across the fields, color was returning to the world. Where grey men had sat grey horses armed with shadow spears, the points of ten thousand lances now glinted silverly cold, and on the myriad flapping banners Catelyn saw the blush of red and pink and orange, the richness of blues and browns, the blaze of gold and yellow. All the power of Storm’s End and Highgarden, the power that had been Renly’s an hour ago. They belong to Stannis now, she realized, even if they do not know it themselves yet. Where else are they to turn, if not to the last Baratheon? Stannis has won all with a single evil stroke.
I am the rightful king, he had declared, his jaw clenched hard as iron, and your son no less a traitor than my brother here. His day will come as well. A chill went through her.
So as the fingers of dawn fan out across the field of morning ghosts, those dark grey tree soldiers with shadow spears have transformed into the Others – their lances now glint silvery cold in the dawn light, and they take on the rainbow hues of the the Rainbow Guard. This is no cheerful sunrise – this is an evil dawn, with a chill born of dark magic… and Stannis has stolen the tree knights from the dark of the wood and made them into Others that will do his bidding.
Pretty amazing, huh? I mean there it is – evil Azor Ahai, invading the green, undefiled weirwoodnet, and making the Others out of the dark forest with a ritual killing of a Green Man. This is not only an invasion of the weirwoodnet, but a defilement and a poisoning… and it’s also akin to setting the weirwoodnet on fire, right? Indeed, even though Renly the sun king dies, and even though the candles are snuffed out, and even though his last word is “cold,” the ensuing struggle in the tent sets the magical green castle on fire:
Another man thrust a flaming torch at her back, but the rainbow cloak was too sodden with blood to burn. Brienne spun and cut, and torch and hand went flying. Flames crept across the carpet. The maimed man began to scream.
That’s cool – flying torches and severed hands are both recognizable moon meteor symbols, and of course the severed hand is also a blood hand / weirwood symbol. The tent catches fire, creating the ubiquitous burning weirwood symbol. A moment later, it says
Behind them, the king’s pavilion was well ablaze, flames rising high against the dark. No one made any move to stop them. Men rushed past them, shouting of fire and murder and sorcery. Others stood in small groups and spoke in low voices. A few were praying, and one young squire was on his knees, sobbing openly.
Fire and murder and sorcery, and a towering pyre for a dead king – those are Azor Ahai’s calling cards, now aren’t they? And look – now the Others are appearing. I wanted to show you the cold silvery spears first, but yeah, this is a nice “others” double entendre to indicate Renly’s army as becoming the Others. So – just as Azor Ahai invaded the weirwoods and obtained the fire of the gods from the burning tree, Stannis Ahai has invaded the burning green castle of the stag king and has stolen great power… which in this case, is the army of symbolic Others.
Now, when the green men were transformed into Others, it wouldn’t have been all the green men. Some green men must surely remain green, for we hear of them on the Isle of Faces. Similarly, Stannis doesn’t actually steal all of Renly’s army. The Tyrells and a few other houses do not go over, but instead regroup in the Reach and eventually end up riding in to save the day at the Battle of the Blackwater. It is these forces of the Tyrells which give us green, resurrected “Renly,” who is really Garlan Tyrell in disguise, who seem to symbolize the green zombie side of the equation (and of course Team Lannister / Tyrell is the side using green wildfire at the battle).
So there you have it, evil Azor Ahai invading the weirwoodnet and ending up as the leader of the Others, who seem to be transformed green men!
Now before we dive into the essay proper, I have one more little treat for you, one more little nugget that I’ve recently unearthed. I am happy to inform you that it only this week occurred to me to check TWOIAF – you know, the book that actually tells about the Old Ones on Leng – for clever symbolic uses of the old ones phrase, and I found three! One is a bit ho hum – a line about Tywin as Aerys’s hand that says “Tywin built new roads and repaired old ones,” which I can’t make too much meaning of. But the other two apply specifically to the Durrandon line of Kings, which is simply amazing. They are both talking about the shift in rulership of the Riverlands from the Durrandon Kings to the Ironborn.
Just as Arlan III Durrandon had done three centuries earlier, Harwyn claimed the riverlands for himself. Those riverlords who had fought beside him had done naught but exchange one master for another…and their new master was harsher, crueler, and more exacting than the old one.
The old one master being the Durrandon Kings. The Old Ones are the horned lords, I’ve been telling you! That was from the “Riverlands” section of TWOIAF, and this is from the “Iron Islands” section:
At Fairmarket, Harwyn found himself facing Arrec Durrandon, the young Storm King, leading a host half again the size of his own…but the stormlanders were ill led, weary, and far from home, and the ironmen and riverlords shattered them. King Arrec lost two brothers and half his men, and was lucky to escape with his own life. As he fled south, the smallfolk of the riverlands rose up, and his garrisons were driven out or slaughtered. The broad, fertile riverlands and all their wealth passed from the hands of Storm’s End to those of the ironmen.
In one bold stroke, Harwyn Hardhand had increased his holdings tenfold and made the Iron Islands once more a power to be feared. Those lords of the Trident who had joined him in hopes of freeing themselves from the Durrandons soon learned that their new masters were far more brutal and demanding than their old ones.
George is doubling down here to describe the Durrandon as Old Ones, and he’s referencing the same event in two different places while doing it, indicating a clear intent. And this scene sounds a lot like the Stannis / Renly scene, doesn’t it? That same line – “with a stroke,” so and so evil Azor Ahai person turned the tables and got a new army. The antlered Durrandon King escapes, but loses the battle, the Riverlands, and many of his family, so it really is similar. Although Renly doesn’t escape, the Tyrells and other Reach men escape and live to fight another day, and of course they are lead by Garlen dressed up as Renly.
As for the men of the Riverlanders, the army who is changing hands in these quotes, they could be seen as residents of the green see, given the way Martin uses the Riverlands and the Trident symbolically.
Anyway, I thought that was fun, and art this point I think there can be little doubt that Martin is intending to create an association between “the Old Ones” and the horned folk we usually call The Green Men. What all that means exactly, we are trying to suss out, but there can be no doubt that “the old one was Garth,” as it is written in ADWD.
Milk Makes Strong Bones
Like I said, the Others are in some sense former green men, evicted from their tree home. All of this is actually hinted at in the good ole AGOT prologue, of course:
A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. It stood in front of Royce. Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow, everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took.
The Others are called the white walkers of the wood, and here they are shadows emerging from the “dark of the wood.” But these shadows are white – like the weirwood trees themselves – and look, they even have dappled green skin! Well, it’s the armor actually, which is made of ice and reflects the green of the wood around them. But we know “dappled” is a children of the forest clue, because the children have dappled skin like a deer – and of course the same idea would apply to Cernunnos-like stag men. Every Cernunnos was once a dappled Bambi, you know. And this is the introduction of the Others here – every word should be regarded as intentional. The Others, who walk the white woods, are “everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees.” This certainly seems like a screaming clue that the Others actually come from the trees and are tied to children of the forest… or green men, or both.
And how about that line, “gaunt and hard as old bones?” Big hat-tip to @DarthDDD on twitter, who caught on to “old bones” as a covert way of saying “old ones.” I actually did notice this line from the prologue while doing the Old Ones research, but thought it was too much of a reach and set it aside… but after @DarthDDD and Ravenous Reader and Wizz the Smith started digging up quotes with “old bones,” it quickly became apparent that this is indeed wordplay Martin is using.
We are going to go through those juicy old bones quotes today, and you will see what I mean, but let me back up and set this up by simply taking a look at this old bones description of the Others here at face value. Those who have caught on to the weirwood tree / Others connection have recognized that “milk white” and “bone white” are descriptions that are applied to both the Others and the weirwoods. The Other here is pale as milk and hard as old bones, while the one Sam encounters in ASOS has milky white flesh, bone-white hands, and icy white bones as pale as milkglass. The red and white coloring of the weirwoods, meanwhile, is most often referred to as “blood and bone” – that’s actually a bit of understatement – the truth is that the only way the white wood of the weirwood is ever described is pale as bone, white as bone, bone white, etc. Every time, bone white.
In other words, the trees that house the Old Gods – the Old Ones – are bone white, just like the cold ones, the cold gods. Like I said, Old Gods, Cold Gods.
Then there is the description of the Black Gate:
It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it.
A glow came from the wood, like milk and moonlight, so faint it scarcely seemed to touch anything beyond the door itself, not even Sam standing right before it. The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that.
An old and pale weirwood face, glowing like milk and moonlight? Well, the Others have swords that glow “alive with moonlight,” in addition to their milk-pale skin. This gate, of course, is below the Nightfort, and may have been used for dark deeds by Night’s King.
So as you can see, the Others and the weirwoods have a lot in common in terms of descriptive language. Pale bone and pale milk, and a bit of moonlight to make it all glow. And lest you have any doubt, behold the weirwood from the Varamyr Sixskins prologue of ADWD:
Outside, the night was white as death; pale thin clouds danced attendance on a silver moon, while a thousand stars watched coldly. He could see the humped shapes of other huts buried beneath drifts of snow, and beyond them the pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice.
This quote should be familiar, as I’ve cited it before. Pale thin clouds dancing amidst cold star eyes watching paints a portrait of the Others in the sky, and below, it’s the “pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice.” The Others are of course often described as pale shadows and white shadows, and of course you know they wear ice armor. This weirwood is getting frozen over, essentially, and it happens just as the army of the dead march through the village. Let me say it even more simply: a frozen weirwood looks like an Other, and an Other looks a lot like the frozen spirit of a weirwood.
This quote is also a strong piece of evidence for the partition theory that we’ve begun to explore in Signs and Portals, which is the idea that the Others, rather than being banished altogether from the weirwoodnet, were banished to a partitioned-off portion of the weirwoodnet, the frozen part of the green see if you will. When I look at the frozen weirwood tree here, that’s what I think of, a frozen over weirwoodnet. Perhaps that’s what the Others need to do to make the weirwoods habitable for them again, freeze them over.
But I digress. Let’s read that prologue lines again: “A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood… gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk… everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees.” As I said, these lines really do tell the story in miniature: the Others are spirits exiled from the weirwoods, whom they resemble. They are the former old ones, the old gods-turned-cold gods. Pale shadows armored in ice, the white walkers of the wood. Read these lines again and imagine the Others as weirwood trees:
Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood.
Heart trees are occasionally called watchers, for obvious reasons, while Ned’s gods “were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood.” Silent, faceless old gods… silent, faceless Others. One also thinks of the green men, who are mentioned only a paragraph away from this last one we just quoted:
In the south the last weirwoods had been cut down or burned out a thousand years ago, except on the Isle of Faces where the green men kept their silent watch.
More silent watchers with symbiotic relationships with trees, very interesting. You see how the Others really could work well as green men who have been exiled from their green wood and frozen somehow. And that’s without going to the “Old Bones / Old Ones” wordplay clues! That was the whole point of this section – to show that Others as weirwood tree spirits is well supported, and that a lot of the clues about this revolves around bones.
Here’s an interesting thought: the old gods and the Others are both faceless, right? It’s a description which speaks to a hive mind / collective consciousness, something which we know applies to the weirwoodnet consciousness and which seems like it could apply to the Others as well, who all seem to be identical according to the AGOT prologue. The Others come from the weirwoods, but the weirwoods are actually not faceless – they have very noticeable bloody faces carved into them, after all. This fits very well with the proposed theory here, actually – the Others were green men back when you didn’t need to carve faces in the weirwoods, back when the trees were faceless. Azor Ahai carved faces into the trees as part of his magical invasion, and this pushed the formerly faceless green men spirits out of the weirwoodnet to become the faceless Others.
Now that we have that established, let’s take a look some old bones and see what we can discover.
Tut Tut, It Smells Like Rain
We aren’t going to go strictly in order, but we will start a couple from AGOT, in which there are four uses of the phrase “old bones.” The first is in the prologue, and describes the Others that slew poor Ser Waymar. Of the other three, two are very similar and involve old bones acting as some sort of Other detection system::
Mormont reached out and clutched Tyrion tightly by the hand. “You must make them understand. I tell you, my lord, the darkness is coming. There are wild things in the woods, direwolves and mammoths and snow bears the size of aurochs, and I have seen darker shapes in my dreams.”
“In your dreams,” Tyrion echoed, thinking how badly he needed another strong drink.
Mormont was deaf to the edge in his voice. “The fisherfolk near Eastwatch have glimpsed white walkers on the shore.”
This time Tyrion could not hold his tongue. “The fisherfolk of Lannisport often glimpse merlings.”
“Denys Mallister writes that the mountain people are moving south, slipping past the Shadow Tower in numbers greater than ever before. They are running, my lord … but running from what?” Lord Mormont moved to the window and stared out into the night. “These are old bones, Lannister, but they have never felt a chill like this. Tell the king what I say, I pray you. Winter is coming, and when the Long Night falls, only the Night’s Watch will stand between the realm and the darkness that sweeps from the north. The gods help us all if we are not ready.”
Well, that’s kind of got our attention, right? Mormont worships the Old Gods, and he’s currently the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, the classic role of the last hero, and this position is implied as being classically that of a skinchanger by the ever present raven. He has old bones, and they detect a chill beyond that of natural winter. He just can’t help but utter the Stark words – Winter is Coming – and to talk about the Ling Night and the white walkers.
Also known as… the Old Ones.
Later in AGOT, after Jon and Ghost defeat the wight in Mormont’s chambers – with the help of some timely advice from Mormont’s raven, I should add – the Old Bear and the young Snow are talking about the event in Mormont’s chambers. They’re talking about Jon’s burned hand, and we get this:
Maester Aemon had given him milk of the poppy, yet even so, the pain had been hideous. At first it had felt as if his hand were still aflame, burning day and night. Only plunging it into basins of snow and shaved ice gave any relief at all. Jon thanked the gods that no one but Ghost saw him writhing on his bed, whimpering from the pain. And when at last he did sleep, he dreamt, and that was even worse. In the dream, the corpse he fought had blue eyes, black hands, and his father’s face, but he dared not tell Mormont that.
“Dywen and Hake returned last night,” the Old Bear said. “They found no sign of your uncle, no more than the others did.”
“I know.” Jon had dragged himself to the common hall to sup with his friends, and the failure of the rangers’ search had been all the men had been talking of.
“You know,” Mormont grumbled. “How is it that everyone knows everything around here?” He did not seem to expect an answer. “It would seem there were only the two of … of those creatures, whatever they were, I will not call them men. And thank the gods for that. Any more and … well, that doesn’t bear thinking of. There will be more, though. I can feel it in these old bones of mine, and Maester Aemon agrees. The cold winds are rising. Summer is at an end, and a winter is coming such as this world has never seen.”
Winter is coming. The Stark words had never sounded so grim or ominous to Jon as they did now.
As you can see, it’s a basically the same usage: Mormont’s old bones can detect the rise of the Others, who are the old ones, turned white as bone. You’re probably thinking of a famous adage of Melisandre’s by now: the bones remember. I can’t speak for all bones, but the old bones of weirwood-worshiping northmen seem to remember what the cold touch of the others feels like.
Also featured in that last passage: possible foreshadowing of hothands Jon? A hand that burns day and night would come in ‘handy’ on the Wall, to modify a well known Jon quote, ha. ‘Only plunging it into the cold bodies of white walkers gave any relief at all,’ lol.
Seriously though – Mormont is going beyond the premonitions of old men here and crossing over into full-blown prophecy: “The cold winds are rising. Summer is at an end, and a winter is coming such as this world has never seen.” I mean, think if your boss was saying shit like that with his eyes peeled wide open on a Monday morning when you show up to work… it’d be a little disconcerting.
Alright, so Mormont’s old bones are in tune with the Others – that makes sense, as he’s the man in charge of stopping them when the story opens. We find more old bones that work this way, and this time it makes even more sense. This quote is simply eye-popping:
Gilly was crying. “Me and the babe. Please. I’ll be your wife, like I was Craster’s. Please, ser crow. He’s a boy, just like Nella said he’d be. If you don’t take him, they will.”
“They?” said Sam, and the raven cocked its black head and echoed, “They. They They.”
“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.”
Ah ha! Craster wives are also the mothers of the Others, so their old bones can surely detect the presence of the Others! It’s very like Mormont’s spidey sense, except it makes even more sense coming from the mothers of the Others! And no that wasn’t meant to be an ice spiders joke, but it is now!
Even better, Craster’s Wives are flat out-labelled as the Old Ones in Chett’s ASOS prologue. I’m saving the full quote of the final Old Ones episode, which will focus on all the instances of female Old Ones, but essentially Chett thinks about killing Craster and taking his place, and when he thinks about what to do with his women, he thinks of putting the old ones to work… the little dickwad. Chett is truly one of the most contemptible people in ASOIAF, which has its share.
In any case, These mothers of the Others should represent women of the green man race, perhaps simply children of the forest, or perhaps they represent the weirwoods themselves – they are either Night’s Queen figures, or Nissa Nissa figures, or both, depending on how all that sorts out. And as we can see, they are old ones with old bones that can sense the Others… who are the Old Ones-turned-Cold Ones. The Old Gods-turned-Cold Gods.
So… it’s all pretty straightforward! I’d have more to say about this quote, but it’s all kind of right there – the Others are descended from the Old Ones. The mothers of the Others have the “old bones” that can sense the Others.One thing I will note is that it’s interesting that in order to save Gilly’s baby from being given to the others, he is given to the Black Brothers. Feels like there could be symbolic import in that. So much baby-stealing!
Jumping forward to ADWD, there’s an old bones reference in the absolutely awful Ramsay – Jeyne Poole rape scene that we kind of have to mention, albeit briefly. I don’t really want to linger on the scene or even pull quotes from it, so I will just mention that Ramsay says Jeyne is dry as an old bone. This is important because Jeyne is playing the role of Night’s Queen here – she’s described as corpse-like and frozen as she pretends to be a Stark maiden. Thus, she’s in line with Craster’s wives as a mother-of-the-Others figure.
There’s one other incidence of old bones being able to feel something coming on, although this time it isn’t winter and the Others that the old bones can sense… at least it doesn’t appear that way at first. What’s really great is that like Craster’s wives, the person with old bones is also labelled an Old One! That’s right, another old one with old bones. It’s wandering Septon Meribald, who brags about the comfort of sleeping beneath the hedges of the Seven Kingdoms when need be – the old ones are the best, he says. You will recall that Meribald was very tree-like and very Garth-like in his youth, being “full of sap” and having a habit of deflowering as many maidens as possible.
Now in AFFC, Brienne, Pod, Hyle Hunt, and Septon Meribald come to the Inn of the Crossroads, now in the possession of Willow and the other orphans protected by the Brotherhood Without Banners. The Inn is a well-known weirwood symbol, with it’s gallows tree, weirwood stigmata inn-keep Masha Heddle, and it’s former weir status (it used to be built over the river, just like a wooden fishing weir). Throughout this scene, the idea of the Inn being a home for ghostly stag men and children of the forest is spelled out. As they approach, there’s the famous line about the ghost smith, who turns out to be Gendry:
“A forge,” Ser Hyle said. “Either they have themselves a smith, or the old innkeep’s ghost is making another iron dragon.”
And then when Gendry emerges:
“Robbers.” Brienne turned, and saw a ghost. Renly. No hammerblow to the heart could have felled her half so hard. “My lord?” she gasped. “Lord?” The boy pushed back a lock of black hair that had fallen across his eyes. “I’m just a smith.” He is not Renly, Brienne realized. Renly is dead. Renly died in my arms, a man of one-and-twenty. This is a only a boy. A boy who looked as Renly had, the first time he came to Tarth. No, younger.
A ghost stag – there can be no doubt, as Gendry is called a ghost twice in rapid succession. And when they first ask for lodging at the inn, we get this line:
“We’ll have silver. Else you can sleep in the woods with the dead men.”
They demand a tribute of stags, in other words, or else they can sleep in the woods with dead men. A dead wood is the way the Haunted Forest north of the Wall is described, so we have the image of a weirwood surrounded by dead woods with dead men. This is basically identical to the Renly death scene, where his magical emerald castle, alive with light, is surrounded by an army which looks like “a forest of tall naked trees, bereft of leaves and life.” I bet the Others are lurking about, and the children are here too:
“All these children,” Brienne said to the girl Willow. “Are they your … sisters? Brothers? Kin and cousins?”
“No.” Willow was staring at her, in a way that she knew well. “They’re just … I don’t know … the sparrows bring them here, sometimes. Others find their own way. If you’re a woman, why are you dressed up like a man?”
Septon Meribald answered. “Lady Brienne is a warrior maid upon a quest. Just now, though, she is in need of a dry bed and a warm fire. As are we all. My old bones say it’s going to rain again, and soon. Do you have rooms for us?”
“No,” said the boy smith. “Yes,” said the girl Willow. They glared at one another. Then Willow stomped her foot. “They have food, Gendry. The little ones are hungry.” She whistled, and more children appeared as if by magic; ragged boys with unshorn locks crept from under the porch, and furtive girls appeared in the windows overlooking the yard. Some clutched crossbows, wound and loaded.
“They could call it Crossbow Inn,” Ser Hyle suggested. Orphan Inn would be more apt, thought Brienne.
So there’s the old bones quote; Meribald feels a storm coming and so his old bones tell him to take shelter at the nearest weirwood symbol. A weirwood inn is better than an old ones hedge, of course, although they are really the same thing. This one has ghost stags and lost of children – children who appear as if by magic! That’s a nice line, isn’t it?
The storm Meribald’s old bones detects is the lightning storm that comes with the arrival of the Bloody Mummers, who seem to be stand-ins for the Others – Rorge and Biter in particular. That’s a good fit for the pattern – every other time someone’s old bones felt something coming, it was winter or the Others in particular. It goes without saying that you noticed the line “Others find their own way” to the inn.. they must come from the dark wood full of dead men.
Giant Tree Bones
There are a couple of old bones quotes that simply relate to the old gods and the weirwoods in a more general sense, and this will lead us to talk of giants in due course. For example, there’s this little gem staring back at us from the center of Lord Bloodraven’s cave:
Seated on his throne of roots in the great cavern, half-corpse and half-tree, Lord Brynden seemed less a man than some ghastly statue made of twisted wood, old bone, and rotted wool. The only thing that looked alive in the pale ruin that was his face was his one red eye, burning like the last coal in a dead fire, surrounded by twisted roots and tatters of leathery white skin hanging off a yellowed skull.
A greenseer statue of old bone – Lord Bloodraven is simply becoming like the weirwood tree he’s merging with. This doesn’t mean Bloodraven has anything to do with the Others, which I do not believe he does, save for the fact that the classic role of the Three-Eyed Crow and Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch figures is to be the one responsible for stopping the Others. Rather, this is simply showing us that the Old Ones were greenseers, and that the Old Ones’ natural home is the weirwoodnet. I will say that’s if LC Mormont’s old bones can sense the Others coming, it’s a safe bet that this ghastly statue made of twisted wood and old bone knows when they are coming as well. Bloodraven is the ultimate White Walker early detection system, right?
The last use of old bones from AGOT concerns the giants, but it’s preceded by the moment when Osha the wildling explains to bran that the rustling of the weirwood leaves is the voice of the old gods:
Bran listened. “It’s only the wind,” he said after a moment, uncertain. “The leaves are rustling.”
“Who do you think sends the wind, if not the gods?” She seated herself across the pool from him, clinking faintly as she moved. Mikken had fixed iron manacles to her ankles, with a heavy chain between them; she could walk, so long as she kept her strides small, but there was no way for her to run, or climb, or mount a horse. “They see you, boy. They hear you talking. That rustling, that’s them talking back.”
“What are they saying?”
“They’re sad. Your lord brother will get no help from them, not where he’s going. The old gods have no power in the south. The weirwoods there were all cut down, thousands of years ago. How can they watch your brother when they have no eyes?”
Bran had not thought of that. It frightened him. If even the gods could not help his brother, what hope was there? Maybe Osha wasn’t hearing them right. He cocked his head and tried to listen again. He thought he could hear the sadness now, but nothing more than that.
After Hodor burst out of the foliage, naked and wet from his swim, Osha remarks that he must have giant’s blood, and Bran responds
“Maester Luwin says there are no more giants. He says they’re all dead, like the children of the forest. All that’s left of them are old bones in the earth that men turn up with plows from time to time.”
To which Osha says that Maester Luwin should go north of the Wall, where he’ll find some giants… or maybe they’ll find him… Now as we’ve discussed in the last two episodes, because the green men seem to be kind of like very tall children of forest, it’s possible that some of the ancient legends that talk about “giants and children of the forest” are actually talking about the green men… who are the old ones. If nothing else, the giants and children two of the so-called “old races,” a classification that includes the children and the giants, and some say, the Others, according to TWOIAF.
Wizz the Smith does make one other observation here though, which is that the line about men pulling the old bones out of the earth could allude to the eviction of the old ones from their natural home. In the earth isn’t quite “in the trees,” but the point is the if the Others are made from the spirits of dead Old Ones who were resting happily in their cozy weirwoodnet tombs before Azor Ahai invaded, evicting them from the weirwoodnet is akin to digging up their graves and letting their spirits out. One thinks of Ygritte telling Jon about Mance’s search for the Horn of Winter:
“I’m crying because we never found the Horn of Winter. We opened half a hundred graves and let all those shades loose in the world, and never found the Horn of Joramun to bring this cold thing down!”
As you can see, unearthing old bones of giants lets loose shades into the world. Here it just says “graves,” but elsewhere it is specified that Mance was digging up giants’ graves, apparently because he thought Joramun was a giant. Perhaps he was just a little extra tall, one of the horned lords we hear so much about on a certain podcast.
Recall also that Martin relates the Others to the aos sidhe, elf-like spirits who were specifically tied to burial mounts – aos sidhe literally means “people of the mounds.” One thinks of the Barrowlands of the North, and in particular of the great barrow at Barrowton, where the bones of the “First King” are said to rest, and you’ll recall there are clues that this First King may have been Garth, or associated with Garth.
Additionally, the barrows of the north are often occupied by giants, so links between Garth, barrows, and giants already exist, even before we found this quote about them having “old bones.” We’ve also already picked up on the idea that our Green Men must be taller than humans and children of the forest, so giant Garth old ones make a ton of sense. Garth the Green fathered John the Oak on a giantess, Robert is a giant when he wears his antlered helm and has a giant’s strength, and weirwoods are frequently called giants, such as when the Winterfell heart tree is said to be “standing like some pale giant frozen in time.” The Hammer of the Waters awoke giants in the earth… and with everything we’ve just reviewed, that almost sounds like Azor Ahai’s moon meteor ritual – the cause of the hammer – awakening the Others from the spirits of the Old Ones, who were buried in the weirwood giants. I mean that’s what I am claiming – the Others are Old Ones spirits driven out of the weirwoods when Azor Ahai dropped the moon meteor hammer and did his dark magic.
Check out this quote about giants and weirwoods… this is kind of a companion to the Varamyr prologue weirwood which was a pale shadow armored in ice:
“Aye,” said Big Bucket Wull. “Red Rahloo means nothing here. You will only make the old gods angry. They are watching from their island.”
The crofter’s village stood between two lakes, the larger dotted with small wooded islands that punched up through the ice like the frozen fists of some drowned giant. From one such island rose a weirwood gnarled and ancient, its bole and branches white as the surrounding snows. Eight days ago Asha had walked out with Aly Mormont to have a closer look at its slitted red eyes and bloody mouth. It is only sap, she’d told herself, the red sap that flows inside these weirwoods. But her eyes were unconvinced; seeing was believing, and what they saw was frozen blood.
“You northmen brought these snows upon us,” insisted Corliss Penny. “You and your demon trees. R’hllor will save us.”
So the wooded islands punch up from one of the frozen lakes like the frozen fists of some drowned giant. That sentence makes a ton of sense now – if the weirwoodnet is the green sea, then a frozen lake represents the idea of transformed weirwoods, the frozen weirwoodnet, etc. The weirwood here is implied as drowned as well as frozen – not only the frozen fists, but the white as snow weirwood branches. Ah ha! I lied about the weirwood white only being described as bone-white… here is the exception.
Taken together, this is a frozen weirwood, drowned in the frozen lake. Actually this implied weirwood giant is only partially submerged since his fists are poking through the ice, and now it really sounds like Dante’s Lucifer trapped in the frozen lake in the ninth circle of hell, an idea which strongly influences the Others. Like I said, it’s very like the frozen weirwood in the Varamyr prologue, and the symbolism here just screams out “freezing of the weirwoods.” That’s got to be the same idea as turning green men in to Others, since Green men and Others are both analogous to trees. And just to follow up on the earlier point, waking giants in the earth could mean a lot of things, but you can see that it could imply to creating the Others from the green men.
You may recall this quote from AGOT that features our favorite giant horned lord and our favorite Ned are travelling south to Kings Landing and ride away from the main column and into the barrow lands:
The rising sun sent fingers of light through the pale white mists of dawn. A wide plain spread out beneath them, bare and brown, its flatness here and there relieved by long, low hummocks. Ned pointed them out to his king. “The barrows of the First Men.”
Robert frowned. “Have we ridden onto a graveyard?”
“There are barrows everywhere in the north, Your Grace,” Ned told him. “This land is old.”
“And cold,” Robert grumbled, pulling his cloak more tightly around himself.
Old and cold, old ones and cold ones, old gods and cold gods. And there they are – we see both a stag man and those morning ghost dawn mists we saw after Renly’s death. During this conversation, Robert also says “gods be cursed” and “the stone has already been set,” and “the Others take your honor!” As with Robert’s scenes in the crypts, there is heavy death foreshadowing here for Robert, who can feel the cold touch of the barrow bones calling to him. More than anything, seeing those same morning ghosts we saw at Renly’s death as Robert’s death is foreshadowed here in the Barrowlands, where Garth himself may have been buried… well it makes my day, let’s just say that.
Alright, so from giants with old bones to dwarves with old bones:
Farther on, they fell in behind a smaller elephant, white as old bone and pulling an ornate cart. “Is an oxcart an oxcart without an ox?” Tyrion asked his captor. When that sally got no response, he lapsed back into silence, contemplating the rolling rump of the white dwarf elephant ahead of them. Volantis was overrun with white dwarf elephants. As they drew closer to the Black Wall and the crowded districts near the Long Bridge, they saw a dozen of them.
Ha, I tricked you. These white-as-old-bone dwarf elephants are actually giants too! Plus, the term white dwarf has to make us think of white dwarf stars. That’s cool; it makes the elephants symbols of weirwoods that you can ride to the stars, just like the astral projection horse symbolism that is anchored in Yggdrasil and Sleipnir, or the weirwood / sea dragon boat in which you can sail the cosmic ocean. As a bonus, Tyrion compares the elephant to an ox, implying the horned lord idea. As an extra double bonus, we notice that there are a dozen white dwarf elephants, which read as a dozen weirwoods or a dozen weirwood giant warriors.
Finally, notice that Volantis – a city of black fused stone built by dragonlords – is overrun with white dwarf old bone elephants. The suggestion here is dragon-associated black stone ideas (moon meteors) having a link to the Old Ones and weirwoods. That’s something we already suppose, since the Hammer event was really a moon meteor impact, and we’ve even speculated about oily black meteor stone on the Isle of faces or in the Heart of Winter.
Since we just did a Tyrion scene from ADWD, let’s do another, though this comes from outside of Meereen, in the command tent of the Second Sons:
“You can talk of old times later … after I am done explaining why my head would be of more use to you upon my shoulders. You will find, Lord Plumm, that I can be very generous to my friends. If you doubt me, ask Bronn. Ask Shagga, son of Dolf. Ask Timett, son of Timett.”
“And who would they be?” asked the man called Inkpots.
“Good men who pledged me their swords and prospered greatly by that service.” He shrugged. “Oh, very well, I lied about the ‘good’ part. They’re bloodthirsty bastards, like you lot.”
“Might be,” said Brown Ben. “Or might be you just made up some names. Shagga, did you say? Is that a woman’s name?”
“His teats are big enough. Next time we meet I’ll peek beneath his breeches to be sure. Is that a cyvasse set over there? Bring it out and we’ll have that game. But first, I think, a cup of wine. My throat is dry as an old bone, and I can see that I have a deal of talking to do.”
Here’s the significance of this quote: it’s another instance of an Azor Ahai person winning a new army with a single stroke – or in this case, several hundred strokes of Tyrion’s pen as he promises half the gold in Casterly Rock to the Second Sons. The Second Sons, with their broken sword sigil, clearly have strong Azor Ahai reborn / last hero associations, so I am not sure if this is Azor Ahai gaining control of the Others or perhaps the last hero getting his Green Zombie Night’s Watch together. I’d lean towards the latter, but I don’t want to do a deep dive on the Second Sons right now and I don’t think we need to – we can simply observe that it’s one or the other, that Tyrion is an Azor Ahai reborn figure of some kind, and he’s using his voice to turn the tide of battle here… a voice that is dry as an old bone.
Even cooler, in the next Tyrion chapter after this one (which is an early release TWOW chapter), Tyrion is playing cyvasse in this same tent and we get an amazing white dragn / weirwood symbol:
“This.” Mormont’s longsword was in his hand. As the rider turned, Ser Jorah thrust it through his throat. The point came out the back of the Yunkishman’s neck, red and wet. Blood bubbled from his lips and down his chin. The man took two wobbly steps and fell across the cyvasse board, scattering the wooden armies everywhere. He twitched a few more times, grasping the blade of Mormont’s sword with one hand as the other clawed feebly at the overturned table. Only then did the Yunkishman seem to realize he was dead. He lay facedown on the carpet in a welter of red blood and oily black roses. Ser Jorah wrenched his sword free of the dead man’s neck. Blood ran down its fullers.
The white cyvasse dragon ended up at Tyrion’s feet. He scooped it off the carpet and wiped it on his sleeve, but some of the Yunkish blood had collected in the fine grooves of the carving, so the pale wood seemed veined with red. “All hail our beloved queen, Daenerys.” Be she alive or be she dead. He tossed the bloody dragon in the air, caught it, grinned. “We have always been the queen’s men,” announced Brown Ben Plumm. “Rejoining the Yunkai’i was just a plot.”
So as you can see, Martin is specifically tying the changing of sides of the Second Sons to Tyrion and dropping a clear weirwood symbol right in the thick of it. It’s also a white dragon, so we have to think of Bloodraven here, and really the message would be “greenseer dragon” or “dragons in the weirwoodnet.”
I also love how this scene gives us the red, bloody sword calling card of Azor Ahai (and remember Jorah has a demon mask tattoo at this point in the story) right next to a weirwood dragon symbol. It’s a nice reinforcement of my notion that Azor Ahai’s Lightbringer ritual was tied to his forcing his way into the weirwood. Even the sequence here is stunning: Lightbringer is forged, and the blood of the victim literally colors the white wooden cyvasse piece red, making it seemed veined with red. To my eyes, it looks like another confirmation that Azor Ahai’s killing of Nissa Nissa was the beginning of carving of faces into the trees, and permanently altered or “bloodied” the weirwoodnet. Don’t forget the oily black roses – those symbolize the black moon meteors, and again the sequence is perfect as they appear on the ground in a pool of blood after Lightbringer has been forged. That’s the same blood that went into the veins of the white wooden dragon, if you smell what I am cooking here.
Arya Not Entertained?
There’s only one “old bones” occurrence in ACOK, and it belongs to Arya’s supervisor at Harrenhal called Pinkeye, and I think the thing to look for here are Others double entendre. This picks up just after Jaquen and company have helped Arya free the captive northmen, and after Jaquen changes his face and leaves Arya:
“Valar morghulis,” she said once more, and the stranger in Jaqen’s clothes bowed to her and stalked off through the darkness, cloak swirling. She was alone with the dead men. They deserved to die, Arya told herself, remembering all those Ser Amory Lorch had killed at the holdfast by the lake.
The cellars under Kingspyre were empty when she returned to her bed of straw. She whispered her names to her pillow, and when she was done she added, “Valar morghulis,” in a small soft voice, wondering what it meant.
Come dawn, Pinkeye and the others were back, all but one boy who’d been killed in the fighting for no reason that anyone could say. Pinkeye went up alone to see how matters stood by light of day, complaining all the while that his old bones could not abide steps. When he returned, he told them that Harrenhal had been taken. “Them Bloody Mummers killed some of Ser Amory’s lot in their beds, and the rest at table after they were good and drunk. The new lord will be here before the day’s out, with his whole host. He’s from the wild north up where that Wall is, and they say he’s a hard one.
The hard one is Roose Bolton, who is symbolically aligned with Night’s King and the Others – and you’ll notice how Pinkeye’s very approximate geography has Roos Bolton as “from the wild north up where that Wall is,” implying Roose as the Hight’s King invading Westeros from the Wall. Pinkeye has the old bones, and we see the phrase “Pinkeye and the others.” So, Pinkeye, with his old bones, and the others with him, they are about to serve an evil Azor Ahai / Night’s King figure, who usually commands the Others. This sequence feels similar to the Stannis and Renly one, with Roose in the Stannis role as one who basically just has an army go over to him after a key assassination (or three), with that army representing the Others.
Now, we’ve looked at these scenes before in detail in the Weirwood goddess series, and both Arya and Jaquen seem to be some kind of weirwood assasins; Arya is playing a child of the forest role, climbing in the kingdom of the leaves and living in caverns beneath Kingspyre Tower, which is another burning tree (weirwood) symbol. Jaquen has red and white hair, like the weirwood, and steps out from behind the weirwood after Arya prays to the Old Gods:
Was that enough? Maybe she should pray aloud if she wanted the old gods to hear. Maybe she should pray longer. Sometimes her father had prayed a long time, she remembered. But the old gods had never helped him. Remembering that made her angry. “You should have saved him,” she scolded the tree. “He prayed to you all the time. I don’t care if you help me or not. I don’t think you could even if you wanted to.”
“Gods are not mocked, girl.”
The voice startled her. She leapt to her feet and drew her wooden sword. Jaqen H’ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees. “A man comes to hear a name. One and two and then comes three. A man would have done.”
So as you can see, I’m not exactly reading into things to suggest that Jaquen is playing the part of some sort of emanation of the tree. But I’ve never thought of him as an Other, because he just doesn’t do Other things… plus, that half-red hair. He seems more like a walking Bloodraven or a Beric figure, or like what Jon will be when’s resurrected with red eyes, white hair, and hot hands. Basically, the good kind of Azor Ahai reborn… and often I think of this person as either the three eyed crow or his servant, the last hero, to put it in basic terms. These figures are always pro-Night’s Watch and pro-weirwood, and indeed, they look like weirwoods to some extent.
Arya herself is symbolically part of the Night’s Watch, as she is a Stark, as she joins the Night’s Watch recruits for a time, and as she kills a run-away Night’s Watchmen, the singer Daeron, in Braavos, which was of course the correct and lawful thing for her to do as a Stark enforcing the law of the Night’s Watch oaths. Here in Harrenhal, she’s combining her copious child of the forest symbolism with that weirwood assassin role I was talking about, very like her mentor Jaquen, and to be honest she reminds me a bit of Melisandre’s shadowbaby.
“A man hears the whisper of sand in a glass. A man will not sleep until a girl unsays a certain name. Now, evil child.” I’m not an evil child, she thought, I am a direwolf, and the ghost in Harrenhal.
An evil child and a ghost, and she’s a child of… Catelyn, a weirwood goddess figure. Just as the shadow baby come from Melisandre, a weirwood goddess Nissa Nissa figure, so to does Arya. This symbolism is built on in the scene where they set the captive northmen free, because Arya and Jaquen come directly from the heart tree in the godswood to the scene of the killing. They are physically coming from the weirwood tree as assassins, just as Arya comes from her mother, who symbolizes a weirwood tree. I have often compared the shadowbaby assassins to the Night’s Watch if you’ll recall, as they are both black shadows symbols of Azor Ahai reborn, and both come from the weirwoods in the sense that the original Night’s Watch were the green zombies, who were resurrected through weirwood magic by all indications.
Just to button all that up… Arya herself already has Night’s Watch affiliations, and she’s acting a lot like the shadowbaby here, which itself has Night’s Watch parallels. Think about Arya’s nicknames: evil child. Blood child. Dark heart.
And just like the shadowbaby child of Mel and Stannis that kills Renly, Arya’s assassinations are what triggers the army going over to the evil Azor Ahai / Night’s King figure, who is Roose in this situation. Arya even serves Roose as his cup-bearer for a time and wears his sigil on her chest. Of course that doesn’t last long; she flees Harrenhal and goes on about her way; I’m not sure if that makes her a good Other figure, but that would fit with her Night’s Watch associations.
There’s actually another old bones quote that involves Arya’s chapters in the Riverlands, so I will serve that up next. Arya has just had that conversation with Ned Dayne about her Ashara Dayne and Ned Stark’s suspected love affair, with Arya storming off angry at the idea her father could have ever loved someone else.
It was Harwin who rode up beside her, in the end. “Where do you think you’re going, milady? You shouldn’t run off. There are wolves in these woods, and worse things.”
Soon after this ominous description of ‘the woods,’ we get this:
The village was just where Notch had promised it would be. They took shelter in a grey stone stable. Only half a roof remained, but that was half a roof more than any other building in the village. It’s not a village, it’s only black stones and old bones. “Did the Lannisters kill the people who lived here?” Arya asked as she helped Anguy dry the horses.
“No.” He pointed. “Look at how thick the moss grows on the stones. No one’s moved them for a long time. And there’s a tree growing out of the wall there, see? This place was put to the torch a long time ago.”
Black stones and old ones? Trees growing out of black stones??? Is this the Isle of Faces or what? Actually, it’s not, it’s a village near the High Heart, which actually is close to the Gods Eye as well. They’ve just come from the High Heart actually, where the Ghost of the High Heart gave prophecies amidst the weirwood circle. We’ll come back to her in a moment, but first take a look at Thoros peering into a fire amidst the black stones and old bones:
Thoros sat before it crosslegged, devouring the flames with his eyes just as he had atop High Heart. Arya watched him closely, and once his lips moved, and she thought she heard him mutter, “Riverrun.”
A moment later, Thoros suddely bursts from his reverie and exclaims…
“Lannisters,” Thoros said. “Roaring red and gold.” He lurched to his feet and went to Lord Beric. Lem and Tom wasted no time joining them.
After conferring, they decide to tell Arya what Thoros saw:
The red priest squatted down beside her. “My lady,” he said, “the Lord granted me a view of Riverrun. An island in a sea of fire, it seemed. The flames were leaping lions with long crimson claws. And how they roared! A sea of Lannisters, my lady. Riverrun will soon come under attack.”
Arya felt as though he’d punched her in the belly. “No!”
“Sweetling,” said Thoros, “the flames do not lie. Sometimes I read them wrongly, blind fool that I am. But not this time, I think. The Lannisters will soon have Riverrun under siege.”
“Robb will beat them.” Arya got a stubborn look. “He’ll beat them like he did before.”
“Your brother may be gone,” said Thoros. “Your mother as well. I did not see them in the flames. This wedding the old one spoke of, a wedding on the Twins … she has her own ways of knowing things, that one. The weirwoods whisper in her ear when she sleeps. If she says your mother is gone to the Twins …”
Ah ha! So the Ghost of High Heart is an Old One – that’s no shock. We’ll talk about this more in the next episode, but she’s most likely half cotf, she has that red eye / white hair coloring that is shared by Ghost the Direwolf, Bloodraven, and Jaquen (Arya even compares her to Ghost in the scene). She is what we have been calling “the weiwood goddess,” the spirit of Nissa Nissa in the weirwoodnet… or we might simply say “the voice of the weirwoods,” as Nissa Nissa’s ghost seems to have become the weirwoodnet.
So, interestingly, both Thoros with his flames and the Ghost of the High Heart with her weirwood whisperings are detecting the Red Wedding. The Brotherhood Without Banners here, having access to both, have put two and two together and figured out not to go to Rivverun.
The star of this show is the Gods Eye symbolism: an island in a sea of fire, with the sea of fire also being equated with roaring Lannister lions. So, an island in a lake of fire which is like a lion… that’s the Gods Eye alright! The Gods Eye symbolism equates the Isle of Faces with the eclipsing moon, and the lake with sun being eclipsed, and so the lake is described as looking as though it was on fire, or it reflects the blinding light of the sun, or looks like a sheet of sun hammered metal, while the Isle of Faces has, well, faces, like the man in the moon lunar face, and more importantly, it has weirwoods, which are equated with the moon on many occasions. So, a weirwood moon island in a lake of solar fire, that’s the combined sky-ground Gods Eye symbol, and here we have a good, strong reference to it: Rivverun as the Isle of faces, surrounded by a lake of solar lion fire. Even Rivverun works well here, as it brings in the James Joyce cyclical concept of time which applies to the weirwoods.
So, in between the Gods Eye and the High Heart, we get black stones and old bones, Beric Ahai and his merry band, then a sorcerer gazing into the flames and seeing a vision that evokes the Gods Eye. The vision reminds him of what “the old one” weirwood ghost lady told him, oh by the way. I’m not trying to interpret this too elaborately; I mostly want to point out the confluence of ideas here: old ones, black stones, and lots of clues about the Isle of Faces.
Next up I have a couple of very strong parallels to the idea of Night’s King winning an army of Others with a single act. The first features Young Griff a.k.a. fAegon Blackfyre, the fake son of Rhaegar Targaryen, winning over the Golden Company. First, check out fAegon:
The prince wore sword and dagger, black boots polished to a high sheen, a black cloak lined with blood-red silk. With his hair washed and cut and freshly dyed a deep, dark blue, his eyes looked blue as well. At his throat he wore three huge square-cut rubies on a chain of black iron, a gift from Magister Illyrio. Red and black. Dragon colors.
He actually sounds a bit like Ramsay, who has the black and blood coloring and ice eyes instead of fAegon’s blue eyes. I read fAegon much the same way though, as an evil Azor turned Night’s King, although there may be more to it. He’s almost like the opposite of the stolen Other baby – a stolen dragon baby. Maybe we should track down all such figures one day, like mace’s child, Aemon Battleborn, or perhaps Dany’s baby… In any case, I think the blue eyes and hair are key – his obvious dragon nature and colors are mixed with this ice symbols to give us some sort of ice and fire mix.
Check out his horse:
They gave the prince the best of the three horses, a big grey gelding so pale that he was almost white. Griff and Haldon rode beside him on lesser mounts. The road ran south beneath the high white walls of Volon Therys for a good half mile. Then they left the town behind, following the winding course of the Rhoyne through willow groves and poppy fields and past a tall wooden windmill whose blades creaked like old bones as they turned.
The windmill is a strong cosmic tree symbol; that’s part of the idea behind the title of my favorite comparative mythology book, Hamlet’s Mill! The cosmic world tree is the axis around which the universe turns, so it’s sometimes depicted as a water mill or windmill, or even a whirlpool. The windmill is apt for ASOIAF, as the weirwoods seem to communicate to regular folk through the rustling of their leaves, and this creaky old windmill is making the sound of old bones. In other words, the weirwood is churning out some old bones – some Others. The cold winds are blowing.
A big-bellied, shambling hulk of a man, the sellsword had a seamed face crisscrossed with old scars. His right ear looked as if a dog had chewed on it and his left was missing. “Have they made you a captain, Flowers?” Griff said. “I thought the Golden Company had standards.” “It’s worse than that, you bugger,” said Franklyn Flowers. “They knighted me as well.” He clasped Griff by the forearm, pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. “You look awful, even for a man’s been dead a dozen years. Blue hair, is it? When Harry said you’d be turning up, I almost shit myself. And Haldon, you icy cunt, good to see you too. Still have that stick up your arse?” He turned to Young Griff. “And this would be …”
Franklyn Flowers has the name of a bastard of the Reach, so he’s bringing the Garth the Green / nature symbolism – and notice that’s called a hulk of a man, and you know George loves those green hulk references, such as he used at the Battle of the Blackwater where the hulking ship was the one loaded up with wildfire. The Hulk is also huge, like other Garth figures, and like the tall stag men we are picturing, so Franklin is very well spelled out to us as a green man / Garth type. BUT – his face is scarred. He’s missing one and a half ears, almost like he had frostbite. He immediately calls out Griff’s supposedly “dead” status and blue hair, and then calls Haldon icy.
Even better is the description of the gilded skulls which have come to define and symbolize the Golden Company:
The captain-general’s tent was made of cloth-of-gold and surrounded by a ring of pikes topped with gilded skulls. One skull was larger than the rest, grotesquely malformed. Below it was a second, no larger than a child’s fist. Maelys the Monstrous and his nameless brother. The other skulls had a sameness to them, though several had been cracked and splintered by the blows that had slain them, and one had filed, pointed teeth.
The other skulls had a sameness – hello. In the AGOT prologue, the “faceless” Others “emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first.” George even slides in the word “nameless” here regarding Maelys the Monstrous’s tiny brother’s skull, which is the size of a “child’s fist.” Oh boy, that brings up the children and the Fist of the First Men where the Others and wights all showed up to butcher the Night’s Watch.
Hands of gold are always gold, and so too for skulls of gold, it would seem.
I’ll also point out that George has previously used a skull on a spear to symbolize a weirwood in that scene north of the Wall; the severed, eyeless heads of three Night’s Watch brothers (Garth Greyfeather, Black Jack Bullwer, and Hairy Hall) were mounted on spears of ash to make grisly weirwood totems. The golden skulls on poles would seem to be the cold version of this symbol.
The quote continues with Jon Connigton staring at the skull of his old friend, Miles Toyne:
Death had robbed him of his ears, his nose, and all his warmth. The smile remained, transformed into a glittering golden grin. All the skulls were grinning, even Bittersteel’s on the tall pike in the center. What does he have to grin about? He died defeated and alone, a broken man in an alien land.
On his deathbed, Ser Aegor Rivers had famously commanded his men to boil the flesh from his skull, dip it in gold, and carry it before them when they crossed the sea to retake Westeros. His successors had followed his example. Jon Connington might have been one of those successors if his exile had gone otherwise.
If JonCon’s like had gone “otherwise,” he’d have ended up a cold golden skull on a pole too, lol. The them of exile is great too – all of the Golden company are descended from exiles. The Blackfyre rebellion – hello, Long Night black dragon symbolism – led to the exile of the Golden Company, just as the Others were theoretically exiled from the weirwoodnet.
As for the grins of the skulls… perhaps a reference to the mocking laughter of the Others? Who knows.
Ghosts and liars, Griff thought, as he surveyed their faces. Revenants from forgotten wars, lost causes, failed rebellions, a brotherhood of the failed and the fallen, the disgraced and the disinherited. This is my army. This is our best hope.
So as you can see, fAegon has got himself an army of the dead. Revenants and ghosts. This is one of those ones where you could argue that fAegon is a last hero / stolen Other baby, more like Jon, and that this dead army is the green zombie brotherhood… sometimes it’s hard to tell the green zombies apart, as they seem to be opposite sides of the same coin with a joined history. I’d argue the motive of the Golden Company matches the proposed motivation of the Others perfectly: they’ve been evicted from their home generations ago, and they are still mad as ever and they want to take back what is theirs. I’ve always read Griff turning his red hair blue and fAegon dying his silver hair blue as symbols of the Night’s King shift from fire to ice, but it’s up for debate.
This next example of a Night’s king making an army of Others from green men is far less ambiguous, I’m happy to say. I’m also happy to say that it’s time to… Sansabrate a little!
Later there was a feast of sorts, though Petyr was forced to make apologies for the humble fare. Robert was trotted out in a doublet of cream and blue, and played the little lord quite graciously. Bronze Yohn was not there to see; he had already departed from the Eyrie to begin the long descent, as had Ser Lyn Corbray before him. The other lords remained with them till morn.
Uh-oh, the Other lords! They’re the lords of the Vale, so it’s easy to see them as icy. And did anyone else hear “Robert was trotted out in a doublet of cream ” and think it sounds like they are serving up Sweetrobin with a bowl of cream to eat for the feast? Robynpaste anyone? No? Okay, let’s pick up where we left off with the other lords remaining with Nigh’ts King Petyr till morn:
He bewitched them, Alayne thought as she lay abed that night listening to the wind howl outside her windows. She could not have said where the suspicion came from, but once it crossed her mind it would not let her sleep. She tossed and turned, worrying at it like a dog at some old bone. Finally, she rose and dressed herself, leaving Gretchel to her dreams.
That’s the same howling wind that is also described as a huge ghost wolf in a different Alayne / Vale chapter, and it’s keeping Sansa awake. Also keeping her awake: her suspicions about Petyr, the ones she’s worrying at like an old bone. The message, clearly, is that she is eating an old one – Sweetrobynpaste, at the feast, like I just said. Naw, I’m just kidding, and making sure you’re still paying attention. The suspicion Sansa is chewing on is the way Petyr “bewitched” the other lords to come over to his side. The quote continues:
Petyr was still awake, scratching out a letter. “Alayne,” he said. “My sweet. What brings you here so late?”
“I had to know. What will happen in a year?”
He put down his quill. “Redfort and Waynwood are old. One or both of them may die. Gilwood Hunter will be murdered by his brothers. Most likely by young Harlan, who arranged Lord Eon’s death. In for a penny, in for a stag, I always say. Belmore is corrupt and can be bought. Templeton I shall befriend. Bronze Yohn Royce will continue to be hostile, I fear, but so long as he stands alone he is not so much a threat.”
Okay, so Gilwood Hunter – gills are fish, and woods are fish if we are talking about the green sea. So, Gilwood Hunter, think Herne the Hunter – this is all green man stuff. He’ll be murdered by his brother, like Renly. Harlan is a name Martin has conflated with Herne the Hunter, as twin children of Garth were called Herndon of the Horne and Harlon the Hunter. I recommend Crowfood’s Daughter’s video on the Disputed Lands YouTube channel about this if you want to learn more about Harlon and Harlequin figures and what that has to do with the brother / brother killing cycle.
Anyway, we also have Redfort, a First Man house whose sigil is a red castle on white, a potential weirwood coloring reference. Waynwood is great; they have wood in the name, green in the sigil, and the whole wagon wheel thing brings us back to the cosmic mill and the cycles of the seasons and life and death. A broken spoke on such a wheel like we see on the Waynwood sigil is a bad thing, but it’s also specific: breaking the cycles of the universe is what the Long Night is all about. House Bellmore, well their sigil is six silver bells on purple, which makes me sing “silver bells” in a Cartman voice and remind you that Silver Bells is a Christmas song! and thus! Bellmore is giving us Holly King / Winter King vibes here. Simon Templton, the Night of Nine Stars, well he’s drippping with Night’s King symbolism; Sansa describes his beard as “black and sharply pointed. A beak of a nose and icy blue eyes made the Knight of Ninestars look like some elegant bird of prey.”
I don’t want to get too bogged down here, but you can see that there’s enough green man symbolism here to send the message thatthese other lords of the icy vale have green man weirwood heritage. One final clue here about the Others, and this picks up right where we left off:
“And Ser Lyn Corbray?”
The candlelight was dancing in his eyes. “Ser Lyn will remain my implacable enemy. He will speak of me with scorn and loathing to every man he meets, and lend his sword to every secret plot to bring me down.”
That was when her suspicion turned to certainty. “And how shall you reward him for this service?”
Littlefinger laughed aloud. “With gold and boys and promises, of course. Ser Lyn is a man of simple tastes, my sweetling. All he likes is gold and boys and killing.”
All the Others like is Craster’s boys and killing. In fact, Craster gives his boys to the Others, and they in turn don’t kill him.
Now the thing is, Ser Lyn’s symbolism screams “Bloodraven.” It’s three black ravens clutching bloody hearts on a field of white, so… that’s three bloodravens in the snow. The way I interpret that is the same way I interpret the green man and weirwood symbolism of the other lords declarant; a sign these “other lords” have an origin with the weirwoods. I mean Ser Lyn certainly doesn’t act like Bloodraven in any sense anyway, and here he is serving Petyr Baelish, a Night’s King figure, by pretending to be his enemy… oh god, I’m giving the “evil Bloodraven” people fodder, I better stop. Don’t even point out that Bloodraven spent 5 books trying to get his hands on a certain “boy,” because that’s just wrong.
So, summing this scene up, Sansa’s suspicions about how Peyr bewitched the other lords is the old bone, and once again we see it fits the pattern of a Night’s King gaining an icy army at a stroke. Now that he’s gained control of the Vale, he can effectively command their army… and decked out in all those Arryn colors, cream crescent moons on sky blue… they will look like an army of Others.
Alright, so we will close with the Lord of Bones. He’s a likely suspect for Other symbolism. And he’s made of bones, so, for this essay he’s kind of the perfect mascot. First let’s take a look at the first time we see him, right before Jon kills Qhorin Halfhand and goes over to the Wildlings:
Ten yards below the cave mouth the hunters halted. Their leader came on alone, riding a beast that seemed more goat than horse, from the surefooted way it climbed the uneven slope. As man and mount grew nearer Jon could hear them clattering; both were armored in bones. Cow bones, sheep bones, the bones of goats and aurochs and elk, the great bones of the hairy mammoths . . . and human bones as well.
“Rattleshirt,” Qhorin called down, icy-polite.
“To crows I be the Lord o’ Bones.” The rider’s helm was made from the broken skull of a giant, and all up and down his arms bearclaws had been sewn to his boiled leather.
Okay, did anyone catch what all these animals that died to make Rattleshirt’s armor have in common? Horns, of course: cows, goats, aurochs, elk, mammoths, and even sheep if you count male ship, a.k.a. rams. Humans don’t have horns – unless they are Green men, lol. Point being, many horned animals died to bring “the Lord o’ Bones” to life. It also reeks of necromancy in general, and of course in terms of appearance, he effectively has white armor, giving him a vaugely otherish appearance. I like the giant’s skull helm, that’s a nice touch.
After Rattleshirt’s introduction we get an avalanche of “Others” double entendres:
He freed his battle-axe, brandishing it above his head. Good steel it was, with a wicked gleam to both blades; Ebben was never a man to neglect his weapons. The other wildlings crowded forward beside him, yelling taunts. A few chose Jon for their mockery. “Is that your wolf, boy?” a skinny youth called, unlimbering a stone flail. “He’ll be my cloak before the sun is down.” On the other side of the line, another spearwife opened her ragged furs to show Jon a heavy white breast. “Does the baby want his momma? Come, have a suck o’ this, boy.” The dogs were barking too.
So there were two: “the other wildlings crowded forward yelling taunts” and “on the other side of the line..”. The line about the other wildlings taunting kind of reminds you of the mocking words of the Others when they confront Waymar, especially since Jon and Waymar have so many parallels. A bit later in the scene after Jon kills the Halfhand, we get this:
“A warg he may be,” Ygritte said, “but that has never frightened us.” Others shouted agreement. Behind the eyeholes of his yellowed skull Rattleshirt’s stare was malignant, but he yielded grudgingly. These are a free folk indeed, thought Jon.
They burned Qhorin Halfhand where he’d fallen, on a pyre made of pine needles, brush, and broken branches. Some of the wood was still green, and it burned slow and smoky, sending a black plume up into the bright hard blue of the sky. Afterward Rattleshirt claimed some charred bones, while the others threw dice for the ranger’s gear. Ygritte won his cloak.
Okay, so those are hard to miss: “Others shouted agreement,” with the word Others capitalized because it’s at the start of the sentence, and “..while the others threw dice for the ranger’s gear,” which is sweet because it’s “the others” instead of just “others.” So that makes four in close succession, and of course you all know that the Wildlings often play the role of the Others, especially in the scene where Jon lets them through the Wall and closely inspects them all. That chapter featured no less than seven Others double entendres, a real tour de force if I don’t say so myself.
So with that established, the scene we are looking at is actually Mance Raydar glamoured as Rattleshirt, and this takes place after the real Rattleshirt has been burned while glamoured to look like Mance Raydar. It starts with Jon beating up a bit on his recruits, with Mancelshirt stepping in to challenge:
By that time Jace had found his feet, so Jon put him down again. “I hate it when dead men get up. You’ll feel the same the day you meet a wight.” Stepping back, he lowered his sword.
“The big crow can peck the little crows,” growled a voice behind him, “but has he belly enough to fight a man?” Rattleshirt was leaning against a wall. A coarse stubble covered his sunken cheeks, and thin brown hair was blowing across his little yellow eyes.
“You flatter yourself,” Jon said.
“Aye, but I’d flatten you.”
“Stannis burned the wrong man.”
“No.” The wildling grinned at him through a mouth of brown and broken teeth. “He burned the man he had to burn, for all the world to see. We all do what we have to do, Snow. Even kings.”
“Emmett, find some armor for him. I want him in steel, not old bones.”
So there’s the old bones line, preceded by talk of fighting wights, as well as Martin cleverly taunting us with the secret of Mance and Rattleshirt being switched before the execution by saying “Stannis burnt the wrong man.” Consider the implications of that in light of Mance’s strong connections with the Horned Lord ideas. His command tent is adorned with the rack of a great elk like the one Coldhands rides, and better yet, he’s a King Beyond the Wall, as was the “Horned Lord” before him. The Horned Lord is remembered for authoring the “sorcery is like a sword without a hilt” quote, and Mance too is implied as a sorcerer – the word “mance” can mean “magic,” as in “pyromancy,” “necromancy,” “geomancy,” “aeromancy,” and so on. So, Mance Raydar is really “magical raider,” and that’s exactly what the Horned Lord was, a man who “used sorcery to pass the Wall.”
Now think about Mancelshirt again – Mancelshirt? Lord o Mance? Bones Raydar? – since he’s a horned lord dressed up as an Other. Oh, gosh, that’s the whole theory isn’t it, the horned green men became the Others, okay thanks turn out the lights when you leave.
Actually no, don’t leave, we aren’t done. Now when Jon fights he sounds distinctly like an Other, with almost superhuman speed and quickness. Jon doesn’t seem to land a decent blow on him, and look out for two “Others” double entendres:
He has no shield, Jon reminded himself, and that monster sword’s too cumbersome for parries. I should be landing two blows for every one of his. Somehow he wasn’t, though, and the blows he did land were having no effect. The wildling always seemed to be moving away or sliding sideways, so Jon’s longsword glanced off a shoulder or an arm. Before long he found himself giving more ground, trying to avoid the other’s crashing cuts and failing half the time. His shield had been reduced to kindling. He shook it off his arm. Sweat was running down his face and stinging his eyes beneath his helm. He is too strong and too quick, he realized, and with that greatsword he has weight and reach on me. It would have been a different fight if Jon had been armed with Longclaw, but …
His chance came on Rattleshirt’s next backswing. Jon threw himself forward, bulling into the other man, and they went down together, legs entangled. Steel slammed on steel. Both men lost their swords as they rolled on the hard ground. The wildling drove a knee between Jon’s legs. Jon lashed out with a mailed fist. Somehow Rattleshirt ended up on top, with Jon’s head in his hands. He smashed it against the ground, then wrenched his visor open. “If I had me a dagger, you’d be less an eye by now,” he snarled, before Horse and Iron Emmett dragged him off the lord commander’s chest. “Let go o’ me, you bloody crows,” he roared.
So that’s cool, the “Other man” is sliding sideways, and I love how Jon thinks that it would have been different if he had Longclaw. True! Valyrian steel is great against Others, I hear. Overall, this is a great preview of what it’s going to be like to fight a White Walker, and there are parallels to Waymar here too, besides the mocking challenge of the old bone-clad wildling Lord. Most importantly, Mancelshirt threatens to take out an eye, which is exactly what the Others did to Waymar in the prologue. This is no small detail, because as Joe Magician and I have discussed on his channel and mine, there are clues that what the Others really want to do to Jon is not to kill him, but to transform him- perhaps into a new Night’s King, or some kind of super wight, who knows. This idea seems to be hinted at by Martin later in this chapter:
By nightfall the bruises that Rattleshirt had given him had turned purple. “They’ll go yellow before they fade away,” he told Mormont’s raven. “I’ll look as sallow as the Lord of Bones.”
“Bones,” the bird agreed. “Bones, bones.”
In other words, Mancelshirt’s blows have began to transform Jon into looking like him! That’s easy to see the implications of, and in the reverse reading of the AGOT prologue, we pointed out the possibility of the Others using their swords to transform people, like some sort of icy Nissa Nissa type of thing. One thinks of Arthur Dayne knighting Jaime with Dawn… anyway.
There’s an interesting line I want to briefly mention; as Jon muses on Melisandre’s nightfire rituals, he notes that there are “perhaps a dozen black brothers who had taken her red god for their own.” Perhaps a hint about the last hero’s dozen green zombies being animated by fire? That’s our best guess about what kind of wights they were, based on all the burning scarecrow symbolism shared between the scarecrow sentinels on the Wall and Beric, the scarecrow knight.
So after this fight with Mancelshirt the Other, Jon decides to walk the Wall and observe some mythical astronomy:
Mully and Kegs stood inside the doors, leaning on their spears. “A cruel cold out there, m’lord,” warned Mully through his tangled orange beard. “Will you be out long?”
“No. I just need a breath of air.” Jon stepped out into the night. The sky was full of stars, and the wind was gusting along the Wall. Even the moon looked cold; there were goosebumps all across its face. Then the first gust caught him, slicing through his layers of wool and leather to set his teeth to chattering. He stalked across the yard, into the teeth of that wind.
So the moon is turning cold, and the cold is slicing through Jon and setting his teeth to chattering. I take this for more cold transformation language, and the cold moon with goosebumps was simply too good to pass up. Now while this cold transformation could be talking about Jon’s possible fate should the Others catch him, it could also be referring to Jon’s murder at the end of this book, ADWD… a scene which also has parallels to Waymar’s death at the hands of the Others, by the way. In that light, it’s interesting to observe what happens next after the cold wind slices through Jon’s clothes, and this is picking up right where we left off:
In the shadow of the Wall, the direwolf brushed up against his fingers. For half a heartbeat the night came alive with a thousand smells, and Jon Snow heard the crackle of the crust breaking on a patch of old snow. Someone was behind him, he realized suddenly. Someone who smelled warm as a summer day. When he turned he saw Ygritte. She stood beneath the scorched stones of the Lord Commander’s Tower, cloaked in darkness and in memory. The light of the moon was in her hair, her red hair kissed by fire. When he saw that, Jon’s heart leapt into his mouth. “Ygritte,” he said.
“Lord Snow.” The voice was Melisandre’s.
Meaning, when Jon is at his coldest and in danger of icy trandsformation… it might be handy to have hothands Mel around (you’ll recall sorcerous flames playing about her hands in another ADWD scene). Jon’s heart leapt into his mouth, which sounds like a resurrection symbol, I must say. And look, there is Ghost.
So, to put a cherry on this, let me point out some advanced wordplay that will make friends like Rusted Revovler, Pan Doubter, and Ravenous Reader exuberant: old snow. What about old snow? Spell snow backards. W-O-N-S. Now say it: “wons.” Old wons. Old Snow. Ha ha ha ha ha
And now we will cite all scenes where the phrase “old snow” is used and… naw just kidding. It occurs fifteen times in the main series, with nine coming in Jon chapters, including this scene that parallels the one with Mel we just cited:
He found Ygritte sprawled across a patch of old snow beneath the Lord Commander’s Tower, with an arrow between her breasts. The ice crystals had settled over her face, and in the moonlight it looked as though she wore a glittering silver mask.
A beautiful and tragic scene, and a good place to end for today. It’s actually a bit of a teaser for the next Green Zombies episode, too, as you can see kissed by fire Ygritte becoming kissed by ice in death. If the weirwood goddess represents the weirwood, this icy silver mask Ygritte is putting on here is equivalent to the “pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice” from the Varamyr prologue of ADWD. It’s hinting at some connection between Nissa Nissa and Night’s Queen, and it’s hinting at the concept of freezing over the weirwoodnet, which I believe to be the ultimate goal of the Others.
Hello there friends, Patrons, and fellow myth heads! We are six episodes into the Green Zombies series, so I’m not going to beat around the bush here. We are going to dive right in, and having just met the real Green men in the last episode, it’s time to start sacrificing them.
Yes, that’s right, Cernunnos may be a handsome stag man, but he is fated to die.
A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring. This version of Garth is largely forgotten.
Cernunnos specifically dies every autumn, and of course the related Oak and Holly King mythology, which divides the horned god into Winter and Summer brethren, revolves around one stag man killing the other every six months. It’s simply a depiction of the way that nature seems to die in the fall – or perhaps we might say that it loses its green. Thus the the horned god, who in all his forms is an embodiment of the forest and the virility of nature, tends to kick the bucket as late Autumn and Winter comes calling. Of course all hope is not lost, because we know Winter doesn’t last forever and nature’s green mojo will be back with springtime…
…unless of course you live in Westeros, and Winter simply doesn’t go away. Then, instead of green men returning to life in the spring, we get all manner of messed up zombies and white walkers and shit. The white walkers are so bad in this kind of cold, sunless environment that it turns out people actually ended up rooting for their own zombie heroes to save the day.
That is of course according to the Green Zombies theory on which this series is based. You will recall that nature cycle mythology is really what helps to put George’s extensive use of zombies in context; since the big evil of the story is a Winter and a night that will not end, George figures it makes sense to play with the green man mythology in dark and twisted ways. Our heroes are resurrected green men, just like real world folklore, but since they are resurrected in the Winter, before their appointed time in the Spring, they come back as the green zombie Night’s Watch. People like Coldhands or even like Beric… it’s not necessarily a pretty picture. We are all waiting to see what it will be like for Jon in the books of course, which figures to be a lot different than Jon Snow from the HBO show, donchya know.
And that’s the good guys. The enemy, the ancient icy enemy known as the Others and their army of the undead… well they are very much monsters which are tailored to the setting in which they appear. Cold white shadows which emerge from the dark of the wood, which George R. R. Martin refers to as “icy sidhe,” they have always read like the darkest instincts of the woods come to life, like pissed off elves turned to ice and snow. and bad intent. The wights, on the other hand, are the logical symptom of a night and a winter which will not end – if the cycle of the seasons and the cycles of day and night are stuck, then the natural life and death cycle figures to be disrupted as well. And since night and winter correspond to the ‘death’ part of the life cycle… we get unnatural death to go along with unnatural winter and night time. The army of the living dead.
One of the mysteries about all of this is that both the Others and my theorized ‘Green Zombies’ are tied to the weirwoods. The Green Zombies are tied to the weirwoods because every scene which reenacts the green zombie ritual has a weirwood symbol at its heart, and most occurrences of “last hero math” (12 + 1 for the last hero and his twelve companions) contain a weirwood symbol as well. We can also deduce this from the available information about the last hero; Old Nan tells Bran that it is at some point after he loses his companions that he receives help from the children of the forest, and then in TWOIAF we learn that the maesters have recorded that:
Thanks to the children, the first men of the Night’s Watch banded together and were able to fight—and win—the Battle for the Dawn: the last battle that broke the endless winter and sent the Others fleeing to the icy north.
Sam also reads in the records of the night’s Watch at castle Black that the children used to give the men of the Night’s Watch dragonglass knives, and we also know that before the Andals came to Westeros, all of the original Night’s Watchmen would have sworn their oaths to a weirwood tree, as Jon and Sam did. According to the Green Zombies theory, this swearing of the Night’s Watch oath to a heart tree would have actually been part of the resurrection ritual, as the newly-resurrected green zombie essentially swears the life he has been given back to the greenseers in the weirwoods – to the Old Gods. So as you can see, the first Night’s Watch received help from the children, the first Night’s Watch was presumably led by the last hero, who also received help from the children, and if the green zombies did exist, then they would have own their un-lives to the magic of the greenseers and the weirwoods.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
The Others, on the other hand, are also called the “white walkers of the wood,” and they seem to come out of the trees, to “emerge form the dark of the wood,” as it were. We’ve been investigating the Others throughout more than two compendiums, and for a long time now, their symbolism has been seeming to suggest the Others as having somehow been evicted from the weirwoodnet. Lately, in the Signs and Portals series, we have seen a variation of this theory emerge, which is that there may have been some sort of partition drawn across the original weirwoodnet, with the Others being exiled to their “frozen” side of the “green see” of the greenseers, much as the Wall effectively exiles the Wildlings from the rest of Westeros. Both eviction theories are similar, and at the core is the idea that Azor Ahai seems to have forced his way into what we call the weirwoodnet, and that this resulted in the eviction of the Others – either to their side of the weirwoodnet, or out of it altogether.
Thus we have the Black Brothers and White Others, both named as watchers, and both named as shadows. They’ve always seemed like mirror images of one another, and the green zombies theory points at a common origin – the weirwoods.
Today we are going to shed some very exciting illumination on these mysteries. We’ll be proceeding as we were when we left off in Green Zombie 5: reading all of the quotes that contain the phrase “old ones” and looking for symbolism which matches the other “Old Ones” scenes we’ve looked at the horned lord mythology at the root of it all – Garth the Green, the Green Men, and the secrets of the Isle of Faces and the War for the Dawn. The Old Ones scenes we will look at today will give us lots of fresh ammo to consider as we try to suss out how this all got started, and how it is that the weirwoods seem to stand at the junction of ice and fire magic, and of Brothers and Others.
Did He Have Antlers
The Wall is a major site of Old Ones activity, which stands to reason since the Green Zombies are tied to the Night’s Watch and the Wall. The Wall is also in the class of “ancient unexplained mysteries of Westeros” that also includes places like the Isle of Faces, Storm’s End, Battle Isle, Moat Cailin, and the Winterfell Crypts, and if there’s a lost race of antlered green men on the Isle of Faces, it may be they had something to do with some of the other mysteries, particularly those tied to the War for the Dawn and the Night’s Watch. Many of thee places are also linked to Bran the Builder, it should be noted.
We’ve already seen Jon speak of praying to the Old Ones while manning Castle Black against the Magnar of Thenn and his invading wildlings, and in case you forgot, the line was “Pray, then,” Jon told him. “Pray to your new gods, and I’ll pray to my old ones.” We are going to come back to that chapter and that battle at Castle Black a bit later today, because there are other Old Ones clues to be found. But to start, let’s have a look at what may be my very favorite Old Ones quote after that “the Old One was Garth” line from the Wolf’s Den at White Harbor, which really can’t be beat, since it’s basically my Old Ones theory in a nutshell: the Old Ones were Garth people. Cousins of Cernunnos. Horny folk. This one is nearly as good though, because it includes talk of Coldhands and Green Men:
“Was he green?” Bran wanted to know. “Did he have antlers?”
The fat man was confused. “The elk?”
“Coldhands,” said Bran impatiently. “The green men ride on elks, Old Nan used to say. Sometimes they have antlers too.”
“He wasn’t a green man. He wore blacks, like a brother of the Watch, but he was pale as a wight, with hands so cold that at first I was afraid. The wights have blue eyes, though, and they don’t have tongues, or they’ve forgotten how to use them.” The fat man turned to Jojen. “He’ll be waiting. We should go. Do you have anything warmer to wear? The Black Gate is cold, and the other side of the Wall is even colder. You—”
“Why didn’t he come with you?” Meera gestured toward Gilly and her babe. “They came with you, why not him? Why didn’t you bring him through this Black Gate too?”
“He … he can’t.”
“The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it … old ones, and strong. He cannot pass beyond the Wall.”
It grew very quiet in the castle kitchen then. Bran could hear the soft crackle of the flames, the wind stirring the leaves in the night, the creak of the skinny weirwood reaching for the moon. Beyond the gates the monsters live, and the giants and the ghouls, he remembered Old Nan saying, but they cannot pass so long as the Wall stands strong. So go to sleep, my little Brandon, my baby boy. You needn’t fear. There are no monsters here. “I am not the one you were told to bring,” Jojen Reed told fat Sam in his stained and baggy blacks. “He is.” (ASOS, Bran)
The spells woven into the Wall, presumably during its creation, are old ones. This is one of the deep mysteries of the story – the origins of the Wall. It’s building is attributed to everyone from the First Men to the children of the forest to the giants to the Others themselves, but might it have something to do with the Old Ones, who are the green men? Were these spells made by the green men, or perhaps made with the power of the green men?
Another factor to consider is blood magic, which is said to be and appears to be the most powerful type of magic in this universe. Ygritte says the Wall is made of blood, so there’s definitely a possibility that powerful blood magic was used in its making. I’d actually say that’s more than a possibility; when Ygritte says “you know nothing, Jon Snow,” it’s essentially as good as something coming from Old Nan, and when she turns to Jon Snow and utters the ominous words “This wall is made o’ blood,” I think we are supposed to regard that as a glimpse of the deep truth of the Wall. Given that sacrificial death is such a big part of Cernunnos lore and Garth lore, it’s possible the Old Ones magic used here at the Wall involved blood magic, either green men performing sacrifices or being sacrificed themselves. Then we have the fact that the person telling us about these old ones spells is Coldhands, who rides an elk like a green man, but is dead. All together, the clues here seem to point to blood magic involving green men, perhaps even the sacrifice of green men.
When we speak of green men, ritual sacrifice, and powerful magic, we have to think of the stories of powerful blood magic being performed on the Isle of Faces to call down the Hammer of the Waters – especially since we see this weirwood reaching for the moon to try to pull it down into the well right after the talk of the green men and the spells of the Old Ones. If I am right about the Hammer of the Waters being a moon meteor impact, then a weirwood reaching for the moon with wooden fingers makes sense – it’s a symbolic depiction of greenseer magic being used to break the moon, something which seems to have been fueled with blood magic any way you slice it.
Consider the Hammer of the Waters myth along side the Azor Ahai myth. The Azor Ahai myth shows us the blood magic killing of Nissa Nissa having the power to break the moon, and we think Nissa Nissa was an elf woman – a woman with the blood of either the children or the green men. The classic Hammer of the Waters legend, on the other hand, shows us greenseers sacrificing either captive humans or their own young to ‘drop the hammer’ (“a thousand captive men were fed to the weirwood, one version of the tale goes, whilst another claims the children used the blood of their own young.”) But if the Hammer was a moon meteor, then breaking the moon and dropping the hammer are the same thing, and look – both things are accomplished with blood magic, quite possibly the killing of “elves” – either children of the forest or green men.
As I have said before, I suspect that the greenseers who “dropped the hammer” by breaking the moon were not children of the forest. I believe they were green men – Old Ones – just as Robert runs around like a horned Garth swinging a giant hammer! It’s called a clue, people! The horned lords dropped the hammer – but the twist may be that they themselves did not drop the hammer, but were rather sacrificed by Azor Ahai to break the moon, just as the legend shows Azor sacrificing Nissa Nissa to break the moon. Nissa Nissa may not have been the only elf killed by Azor Ahai – one thinks of the parallel myth of Brandon of the Bloody Blade who is implied as either killing or impregnating many children of the forest near Red Lake. Azor may have slaughtered green men in order to gain access to their trees, with Nissa Nissa being the capstone of this extremely dark ritual.
An important parallel here may be the killing of Renly, dressed in his glorious and Garth-like green stag man armor, because he was slain by a shadow version of Stannis, who is a dark Azor Ahai figure. That scene has a lot of Long Night imagery, with all the candles blowing out and Renly’s last word being “cold.” Renly’s death gains Stannis the army of the Reach and a stronger claim of kingship, which matches the idea of Azor Ahai gaining power by killing green men. Stannis’s dream-projection penetration of Renly’s green tent (the “magical castle alive with emerald light”) can be seen as Azor Ahai’s penetration of corruption of the weirwoodnet, and again we see that killing green stag men is a part of this.
Another relevant parallel would be the Ironborn king, Urron Redhand. “Red-hand” is a weirwood symbol, because of their blood red, hand-shaped leaves, and indeed, King Redhand is caught red-handed by history as having won his crown by killing thirteen captive kings and fifty priests inside Nagga’s Ribs, which are really made of weirwood. Nagga’s Ribs function as a kind of weirwood grove here, and the ribs are even said to have run red with the blood of the slain, so taken with the red hands thing, there is a strong evocation of weirwood sacrifice here. The last hero math, in this context, is a nearly irresistible symbol. And our murderer, Urron, has a name which links to Euron Crowseye and Urrathon Nightwalker of Qarth (who might be Euron’s alter ego, actually), and both of those characters seem to fit the evil Azor Ahai mold. I mean we know Euron CrowsEye does, and Urrathon Nightwalker is known for his glass candles, which is Valyrian sorcery.
Put together and you evil Azor Ahai slaughtering thirteen people with special blood – call it kingsblood or whatever you want – inside of a weirwood grove. Something like this may well have went down at the Isle of Faces, either in connection to the blood magic that broke the moon or the green zombie ritual which would have come a bit later. We’ve yet to sort all that out.
Another parallel leaps to mind here – Daemon Targaryen carving the weirwood heart tree in the Harrenhal godswood with thirteen last-hero-math slashes of Dark Sister. Again we have the implication of ritual killing (via the last hero math) and even weirwood face carving, and it’s performed by a blood-of-the-dragon, Azor Ahai figure wielding a Lightbringer symbol…. right before fighting a Night’s King figure riding a dragon above the Gods Eye lake and the Isle of Faces. Whew!
Another possibility is that when Azor killed Nissa and forced his way into the weirwoodnet, he “killed” the green men in a less literal sense by killing or altering their spirit home. Azor symbolically set the weirwoods “on fire” when he invaded, which may have effectively killed the green man Old Ones spirits that reside in the weirwoodnet. In Stannis’s killing of Renly, Renly might represent the weirwoods as a whole, just as the green man represents nature as a whole, and his murder might simply represent Azor Ahai penetrating, burning, and corrupting the pristine green see that existed before he came.
I’ve speculated that before Azor Ahai’s invasion, those bonded to the trees would have done so in a more “natural” way, one which may not even have involved carving faces into the trees and essentially hollowing out their consciousness so that humans can live inside, which may turn them into “wight trees,” so to speak. This older form would be more like the classic setup between a tree and a dryad, and I am picturing the green men as this older form of natural greenseer. I mean, they do live on the Isle of Faces with only weirwoods for company, so it would be weird if the green men didn’t have any ability to use their magic. It stands to reason that a Cernunnos-like stag man creature would play a role like this, as that is the classic role of Cernunnos and other horned gods – they are the protector of the forest, even an avatar of the forest itself. Garth planted weirwoods at Highgarden, after all, and the descendants of his firstborn son, the powerful kings of House Gardener, ruled from atop a throne of living oak, the Oakenseat.
Speaking of House Gardener, I will briefly mention that this oldest and proudest line of Garth the Green was burned from the fabric of existence by Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya at the field of fire, an act which greatly helped to win Aegon his throne. In fact it was the burnt swords from the field of fire and Harrenhal which went into the making of the Iron Throne, so once again we have an Azor Ahai dragon figure gaining power and kingship through the slaughter of green men. In somewhat similar fashion, the Oakenseat was chopped up and burned by a Dornish king during the rule of Garth X, and Highgarden itself was burned. The old and feeble-witted Garth X was found tied to his bed – hello greenseer symbolism – and his throat was cut, completing the Garth sacrifice symbolism to go along with the burning of the Oakenseat and Highgarden.
Returning to Bran’s scene with Sam at the Nightfort, consider again the importance of the presence of Coldhands in this scene that talks about green men and the spells of the old ones, since he checks out as both a green man figure, riding elks and talking to the birds and protecting the forest and being allied with the children and Bloodraven… but also happens to be an undead Night’s Watchman. I have suggested before that the Pact between the children of the forest and the First Men, supposedly signed shortly after the Hammer of the Waters, is actually where the Night’s Watch was formed. The legendary history has the Hammer and the Pact taking place thousands of years before the Long Night, but of course the idea that the Hammer was a moon meteor called down at the time of the Long Night necessitates a rewrite of this timeline, which I believe makes sense.
If that’s the case, the Pact would still have been signed shortly after the fall of the Hammer of the Waters, but that’s now happening during the Long Night. As I like to point out, it makes sense for the Pact to be signed during the Long Night, because that’s exactly when the First Men would have been desperate enough to yield to the children and give up their gods, despite having previously outmatched the children. Plus, we already know that during the Long Night, the children were said to be involved in the formation of the Night’s Watch and that they helped the last hero, so we are already looking for an alliance between humans and children of the forest during the Long Night anyway.
According to my thinking, the Pact represents the formation of the Night’s Watch, and this would probably be when the resurrection of the green zombie watchmen through the use of greenseer magic took place. The Pact was said to take place on the Isle of faces, and involved the carving of faces into all the weirwood trees and the formation of the Sacred Order of Green Men, which quite honestly already sounds like a green zombies resurrection party as it is. To put it simply, the Isle of Faces is a great place to create the first green zombie Night’s Watch, whether or not this was the same thing as the Sacred Order of green men or something separate. You know how tangled history gets – it could be that the green men were always on the Isle of faces, and it was the green zombie Night’s Watch which was formed on the Isle amidst all the weirwoods.
I want to make sure everyone is clear about the legendary events at the Isle of Faces, as this can get confusing. There are two events: the sacrifice of either captive humans or children of the forest to call down the Hammer of the Waters, and then later, the Signing of the Pact, where the face carving was done. Here’s the thing though; Bloodraven says that the purpose of carving a face on a weirwood tree is to enable a new greenseer to see from them, and there are some clues that awakening a new heart tree may involve blood sacrifice. So, you kind of have to wonder if maybe the face carving and massive human sacrifice happened at the same time, or that at the least, the two events may be linked. Consider this: according to legend, the greenseers were “feeding” captives to the weirwood on the Isle of Faces to drop the Hammer before they had faces; but doesn’t it make more sense to give them faces and them feed them sacrifices?
Setting that question aside, I do want to make the point that the face carving supposedly happened shortly after the Hammer fell, but if the hammer was really a Long Night moon meteor, then this means the face carving was done around the time Azor Ahai would have been invading Westeros. I like this because I have always seen the face carving as something done against the will of the trees, something that marks the invasion of the trees against their will. Azor Ahai is the one invading the weirwoodnet, so it figures that he’s the one carving the faces or causing them to be carved.
At this point, I can here Bronsterys the Wise Old Dragon asking the question: so what exactly do you think happened? Well, based on what we just discussed, I think the evidence is pointing the most strongly towards the green zombie ritual, and thus the formation of the Night’s Watch, occurring on the Isle of Faces. It’s also looking like the blood magic ritual to break the moon may have occurred here as well, though I think that is less certain. There are even stories that say the Hammer was called down by the greenseers at Moat Cailin instead of the Isle of Faces, and there’s always the possibility Azor did his blood magic ritual at Asshai as well. Still, at the end of the day, there was some reason Azor needed to come to Westeros, and access to the weirwoodnet is the most likely reason. The Isle of Faces would seem to be the place.
That was a bit of digression into Hammer of the Water talk, but if we want to understand the green men, we have to understand the events on the Isle of Faces. Now you can see why this chapter at the Nightfort is written the way that it is: Sam shows up, talks about Coldhands and the spells of the Old Ones, Bran mentions the Green Men, and then we see a weirwood with an arm trying to destroy the moon. It’s telling a story about the events of the Long Night; about the destruction of the moon with greenseer magic called down on the Isle of Faces where the green men live and about the creation of green zombie watchmen like Coldhands with that same Green Man weirwood magic. Warding the first version of the Wall with the spells of the Old Ones against which no shadow or undead thing can pass – which is where we started this section – makes sense as something this new alliance of greenseers and First Men would do.
Overall, I think the comparison between the green men performing blood magic on the Isle of Faces and the Wall being built with the spells of the Old Ones – who may be the green men – works very well. One of the other places which Melisandre says is woven with old spells that prevent shadows from passing also happens to be tied to horned gods and Bran the Builder, just as the Wall is, and that would be Storm’s End:
“There was no need,” she said. “He was unprotected. But here . . . this Storm’s End is an old place. There are spells woven into the stones. Dark walls that no shadow can pass—ancient, forgotten, yet still in place.”
So again we see the spells are set to prevent shadows from passing – the shadow babies here, and “dead things” like Coldhands at the Wall – and probably the Others themselves, who are called “white shadows.” That’s a fascinating topic on its own – so the oldest places in Westeros are warded against shadows and wights with spells? Sounds like something they came up with during the Long Night, no? It’s also a potential connection between Storm’s End and the Wall, which, again, are both attributed to Bran the Builder, maybe. The legends of Storm’s Ends’s creation also involve talk of the children of the forest shaping stones with magic, which is kind of hard to fathom, but may be more easily attributable to the Old Ones, who did after all create underground cities on the Isle of Leng.
Then there is that Arianne Martell TWOW early release chapter we talked about last time, the one where she finds stone pillars (seemingly stalactites and stalagmites which have grown together) carved with faces that resemble heart trees deep underground in the Rainwood near Storm’s End… perhaps this is a place belonging to the Old Ones, rather than the children as Arianne and her company presume. Of course if the green men / Old Ones really are some kind of stag man connected to the weirwoods, they can surely be considered cousins to the children of the forest and are surely connected to them.
Overall it’s an interesting picture here at Storm’s End: why did those Durrandon kings wear antlered hats anyway for all these millennia? Perhaps the answer is that the green men were active in this area in days of yore, and they left their mark on local folklore – and perhaps on the stone itself. The tales of the ancient Durrandon kings here speak of children of the forest and giants, but the green men are basically like giant children of the forest, so perhaps that’s what’s going on here.
Here’s another thing to consider. Often times in the real world and in ASOIAF history, one conqueror, king, or warlord defeats another and takes their symbolism on in order to rule their lands. That’s how the Baratheons got their antlers; they essentially took over the ancient Durrandon seat of Storm’s End, married into the Storm King’s line, and sought to carry on his symbols of power. The Boltons have supposedly worn the skins of the Starks they have slain, and over in Essos, Huzor Amai, King of the Sarnori, defeated the King of the Hairy Men and wore his skin as a pelt. Perhaps Duran Godsgrief wore antlers…because he slew green men in order to win his kingdom, and / or because the somewhat terrifying image of the stag-man was already imbued with power in that area. I would say both, because Durran Godsgrief is an Azor Ahai type who challenges and steals from the gods, and I believe Azor essentially slew green men in some sense, as we just discussed. In doing so, Durran and Azor themselves became horned gods in the sense that they stole their power. Also, at the risk of stating the obvious… wearing antlers makes you look like a tree person with branches sticking out of your head. Thus when you kill horned lords and steal their attire, it’s akin to killing them and stealing their weirwood tree home. Which is what Azor did.
When I looked at the history here, I noticed that that some Durrandon kings war on the giants and children, and some are friendly with the children:
The Godsgrief himself was first to claim the rainwood, that wet wilderness that had hitherto belonged only to the children of the forest. His son Durran the Devout returned to the children most of what his father had seized, but a century later Durran Bronze-Axe took it back again, this time for good and all. The songs tell us that Durran the Dour slew Lun the Last, King of the Giants, at the Battle of Crookwater, but scholars still debate whether he was Durran V or Durran VI.
So there’s the Godsgrief, taking the Rainwood from the children – which means he probably slaughtered them. His son gave it back to them, and one thinks of the idea that evil Azor Ahai’s son became the last hero, a friend to the children of the forest and the weirwoods. Then there is another Durrandon king nicknamed Ravenfriend, which makes him sound like one who is pro-children and pro-greenseer, and then when the Andals invaded, we hear of a Durrandon King who sounds like the last hero:
But King Baldric I Durrandon (the Cunning) proved expert at setting them one against the other, and King Durran XXI took the unprecedented step of seeking out the remaining children of the forest in the caves and hollow hills where they had taken refuge and making common cause with them against the men from beyond the sea. In the battles fought at Black Bog, in the Misty Wood, and beneath the Howling Hill (the precise location of which has sadly been lost), this Weirwood Alliance dealt the Andals a series of stinging defeats and checked the decline of the Storm Kings for a time.
Baldric is a variant of the Eldric / Eldric / Elric name tree, and of course these type of figures are always last hero / stolen Other baby figures, as we saw in the Blood of the Other series. This is an interesting echo of the last hero story, then, and places a horned stag man as the last hero who is part of a weirwood alliance with the children of the forest. The Andals make good stand-ins for the Others, due to their symbolism, which is another topic we have explored elsewhere, but just in brief, think of their white marble septs like the Sept of Baelor or the Sept of the Snows, or think of all the icy crystal the Faith likes to use to decorate.
To me, this last hero parallel story alludes to the idea that the famous “Pact” between the First Men and the children occurred during the Long Night, not thousands of years before, and that the formation of the Night’s Watch was a part of this pact. The Night’s Watch was certainly a weirwood alliance between the children and the First Men, and the spells of the Old Ones may have been at work to raise the first Black Brothers from the dead.
Again I will point out the weird legend of the children having helped build Storm’s End, as this also suggests a possible alliance between the ancient Durrandon and the children. The idea that there are old spells set into the walls of Storm’s End, spells similar to the old ones at the Wall, lends credence to the notion that either children of the forest, green men, or magic of one of those groups was used to protect Storm’s End, most likely during the Long Night, when people would have been worried about magical shadow assassins. The same being done at the Wall is just common sense. One has to wonder what that first Wall was made of – fused black stone, perhaps? Sorry, I’ll put the tinfoil away for now.
Getting back to the Wall, which we now know was built at least in part by the Old Ones, let’s talk about the Switchback Stair, an outstanding symbol we have neglected for too long. This is from a Sam chapter of AFFC:
Castle Black’s keeps and towers rose about him, dwarfed by the icy immensity of the Wall. A small army was crawling over the ice a quarter of the way up, where a new switchback stair was creeping upward to meet the remnants of the old one.
That switchback stair is highly symbolic and significant, and it seems to have something to do with the Old Ones. I’m going to tell you right now: this stair is a symbol of a weirwood tree, and that’s why it’s a hub of Old Ones action. In the scene we just read, the Black Brothers are repairing the burned section of the stair which was sacrificed to win the battle against the wildlings, but check out this scene from ASOS where Jon sees the stair before it was burnt, after he has escaped Styr’s group of wildlings and is approaching castle Black at dawn:
As the stars began to fade in the eastern sky, the Wall appeared before him, rising above the trees and the morning mists. Moonlight glimmered pale against the ice. He urged the gelding on, following the muddy slick road until he saw the stone towers and timbered halls of Castle Black huddled like broken toys beneath the great cliff of ice. By then the Wall glowed pink and purple with the first light of dawn.
From the ground he could not tell if there were sentries walking the Wall seven hundred feet above, but he saw no one on the huge switchback stair that climbed the south face of the ice like some great wooden thunderbolt.
As you can see, this is a great “Dawn is the original Ice sword of House Stark” scene, with the Wall lighting up and glowing with the dawn light. And there’s the Stairway to Heaven, climbing the ice like a wooden thunderbolt. This is the ‘old one’ stair which is like a wooden thunderbolt, and of course that puts us in mind of the Storm God’s thunderbolt which set the fire of the gods tree ablaze – especially since this wooden thunderbolt stairway is destined to be set on fire. It’s kind of all three symbols rolled together – tree, thunderbolt, and then burning tree.
The thunderbolt motif is repeated again when Tyrion first sees the Wall:
A wooden stair ascended the south face, anchored on huge rough-hewn beams sunk deep into the ice and frozen in place. Back and forth it switched, clawing its way upward as crooked as a bolt of lightning.
Martin really wants us to think about the wooden stair as a bolt of lightning, it seems – and again, this wooden thunderbolt is eventually set on fire. Because the stair itself is a visual metaphor of climbing to the heaven, it works well as a symbol of the thunderbolt which set the tree ablaze and gave the fire of the gods to man, an act which allows man to become like god, and thus ascend the stairway to heaven.
So, the basic message sent by labeling the old switchback stair as “the old one” after it is burnt would seem to be to equate the Old Ones – the green men – to the weirwoods and their ability to transfer the fire of the gods to men. This fits with our analysis in the last section concerning Azor Ahai perhaps killing the green men to take their power. Setting the Old Ones stair on fire is like setting the green men weirwoodnet on fire.
After Jon gets back to Castle Black and warns everyone of the imminent wildling threat from south of the Wall, they make preparations to defend against it, and we get yet another good thunderbolt description of the switchback stair:
So Castle Black had a wall of sorts at last, a crescent-shaped barricade ten feet high made of stores; casks of nails and barrels of salt mutton, crates, bales of black broadcloth, stacked logs, sawn timbers, fire-hardened stakes, and sacks and sacks of grain. The crude rampart enclosed the two things most worth defending; the gate to the north, and the foot of the great wooden switchback stair that clawed and climbed its way up the face of the Wall like a drunken thunderbolt, supported by wooden beams as big as tree trunks driven deep into the ice.
Castle Black is defended by a crescent shaped wall of food, basically, which I found amusing. There is the stairway clawing and climbing like a thunderbolt, and look, it’s drunk this time. Drunk with the mead of poetry and fire of the gods, of course, like Odin. Just to make sure we are thinking of the weirwood trees when we see that the stair is like a wooden thunderbolt, George points out that the beams that support it are as big as tree trunks. One might even infer the meaning that the stairway represents the entire weirwoodnet, which is made up of many trees.
Not only do these thunderbolt tree trunks catch on fire – Jon, an Azor Ahai figure, is one of those who light it on fire. Amazingly, it is right before he lights it on fire with a couple other black brothers that we get that quote where Jon says to Satin “Pray to your new gods, and I’ll pray to my old ones.” It reminds me of Bran praying to the Old Gods right after he sees the weirwood trying to pull the moon down into the well, actually. Sticking with this same Jon chapter, here is the scene where the Jon and Satin prepare to set the stair on fire:
“Fetch the torches,” Jon told Satin. There were four of them stacked beside the fire, their heads wrapped in oily rags. There were a dozen fire arrows too. The Oldtown boy thrust one torch into the fire until it was blazing brightly, and brought the rest back under his arm, unlit.
So there is your last hero math – a dozen unlit fire arrows in the hands of the Night’s Watch, and one lit torch to light them on fire. This makes wonderful sense, as it ties the last hero’s group of zombie heroes to the burning wooden thunderbolt old one staircase. The green zombie theory has always postulated that they are resurrected through weirwood magic, and that the Night’s Watch swearing their vows to weirwood trees is an echo of the original zombie-making ritual. Alternately, and more simply, you can simply look at Jon and observe that it is an Azor Ahai figure setting fire to the switchback stair, a symbolic weirwood tree, which is consistent with everything else that points towards Azor Ahai setting the weirwoodnet ‘on fire.’
Let’s put this scene together, since Martin has again given us two separate Old Ones quotes that link together: Jon praying to the Old Ones before lighting the stair on fire, and the burnt stair later being labelled “the old one.” The wooden thunderbolt switchback stair represents a weirwood tree being struck by lightning, essentially, and it is labelled as an Old One. So what’s happening here is that Jon prays to the Old Ones, then immediately turns and sets the symbolic Old One tree on fire. This seems highly ritualistic, when taken together, and it also reminds us that when Stannis offered Jon Winterfell and a Stark name, the requirement was setting fire to the heart tree in the Winterfell godswood. I think this idea of setting the tree on fire is largely symbolic, which is why Jon doesn’t actually burn one, but through that “road not taken” alternate reality where Jon burns the Winterfell tree, and through this scene with Jon setting fire to the switchback stair, we can see that Jon is cast in the trademark Azor Ahai role of being the one who sets the weirwoodnet on fire. That’s a topic we covered in more detail in Weirwood Compendium 4: In a Grove of Ash, if you are curious.
What’s relevant here is the implied presence of the Old Ones, who seem to be in the tree when it is set on fire. Once again, I believe this supports our emerging narrative: the green men / old ones / Garth people are the original beings, along with the children perhaps, who were bonded to the weirwood trees, before evil Azor Ahai killed Nissa Nissa and invaded the wwnet. These actions permanently altered the weirwoodnet, which was the home of the green men greenseers prior to this. The weirwoods are the home of the Old Ones, it seems clear, and since they are “the Old Ones,” they kind of have to be the originals, right?
There’s a hint about stag men as greenseers in this very chapter, actually, as this is also the chapter where, right before the fight, we get that line about the horned lord riding the sky:
The west had gone the color of a blood bruise, but the sky above was cobalt blue, deepening to purple, and the stars were coming out. Jon sat between two merlons with only a scarecrow for company and watched the Stallion gallop up the sky. Or was it the Horned Lord?
We will get into this more in future Weirwood compendium episodes, but the flying celestial stallion is a nod to Yggdrasil and Sleipnir, Odin’s two astral projection horses which allow him to fly through the cosmos, and giving the Stallion constellation the name “the Horned Lord” north of the Wall clues us in to the idea of horned lords – the green men Old Ones – riding the sky as greenseers. Only a moment after seeing the horned lord in the sky here, the wildling attack begins, and Jon is praying to the Old Ones and lighting the stair on fire. Next to him is a scarecrow Night’s Watchman, which serve as tremendous clues about undead Night’s Watchmen, as we know, emphasizing the link between zombie Night’s Watchmen, the horned lord, and the Old Ones who are really the Old Gods of the weirwood.
Honestly, this scene reminds a bit of Dany looking and seeing the red comet right before she lights Drogo’s pyre on fire… and that actually fits well, as both the burning stairway and burning pyre are what we like to call “ground zero bonfires” which symbolize burning weirwoods. You can find elements of both of these scenes at another ground zero bonfire, the Burning of the Seven, which features burning trees like the stairway scene (and there I am referring to the burning masts of the ships carved into the Seven), with Stannis lighting the fire that time instead of Jon, and it has the birth of a Lightbringer sword to parallel the birth of Dany’s dragons. Drogo’s bonfire had burning trees too, for what it’s worth, and of course the idea of ascending to the stars was prominently featured, an idea that plays off the theme of the stairway to heaven.
So now we’ve come to the actual burning of the switchback stair, and it’s time to talk about how the Others figure into all this. Think about it – we have this repeated message that the weirwoods were originally the home of the Green Men, who are the Old Ones, and we see this repeated depiction of Azor Ahai setting the weirwood home of the green men on fire. Separately, we’ve been seeing evidence that Azor Ahai’s invasion of the weirwoodnet is what “evicted” the Others from the weirwoodnet…
… then don’t the Others kind of half to be the spirits of the Old Ones who were already inside the tree? This would fit very, very well with George’s description of the Others as icy sidhe (and really he means icy Aes Sidhe, as the word sidhe refers to the mounds, and Aes Sidhe means “the people of the mounds”). The basic concept here is that the Aes Sidhe are something like fairies or elf spirits, and calling the Others icy spirit elves kind of makes sense, right? Especially if the Others are the spirits of the original greenseers, who are Cernunnos-like stag men. No wonder the Others are pissed, and seem to emerge from the shadow of the weirwood…
So here is Jon Ahai, praying to the Old Ones and then setting the symbolic Old Ones tree on fire. Are any of the people caught on the burning stair representative of the Old Ones who turned into the Others? Why, so glad you asked. All of the wildlings can be used to symbolize the Others – they do it in Jon’s Azor Ahai dream, and again all throughout the chapter where Jon lets them through the Wall. More specifically though, the leader of the men trapped on the burning stair is Styr, the earless Magnar of Thenn, who has Otherish symbolism.
First of all, he carries a weirwood spear, somewhat reminiscent of the High Septon’s weirwood staff crowned with a crystal orb (and of course crystal often serves as a symbolic analog for ice). Last time we saw that there was an “Old One” High Septon who died in his sleep, and because the High Septon is viewed as the avatar of the gods on earth, this seemed to be Martin telling us about the Old Ones as being the Old Gods of the weirwood, the greenseers who die in their sleep and enter the weirwoodnet. Thus it’s interesting to see the Magnar with a weirwood spear, because Magnar means lord in the Old Tongue, and better still, Jon observes that his people “thought him more god than lord.” In other words, Styr is a weirwood god-man of the oldest First Men tradition.
At one point Styr utters the extremely Odin-like line “The boy might see more clear with one eye, instead of two” while threatening Jon at knife-point to try to get him to tell the truth. Later, at Queenscrown, Styr commands Jon to kill the old man beneath the apple tree, an obvious parallel to a weirwood sacrifice. Consider also that a steer is a name for a neutered male cow, which makes Styr a kind of horned lord… but a neutered horned lord implies a green man who lost his green,
As for Styr’s Other symbolism, well, the neutering implication of ‘steer’ for start, because the Others are implied as infertile, being a brotherhood of white shadows who need Craster babies or Night’s King babies to make more Others. If they are the evicted spirits of green men, then they are green men who lost their green. Styr himself has no hair, the opposite of hairy, fertile Garth characters. Styr’s ears were probably lost to frostbite, implying him as an ice-transformed person, and he stares at Jon coldly when they first meet in Mance’s tent. Mance’s tent itself is a frozen horned lord symbol, being made of polar bear skins and adorned with a rack of antlers from a great elk, like the one Coldhands rides.
Interestingly, Styr actually does not burn on the stair, but instead falls and is buried in snow:
Many leapt from the steps before they burned, and died from the fall. Twenty-odd Thenns were still huddled together between the fires when the ice cracked from the heat, and the whole lower third of the stair broke off, along with several tons of ice. That was the last that Jon Snow saw of Styr, the Magnar of Thenn.
If the burning stair is the weirwood tree, and Styr and his men the Old Ones in the tree, then leaping or falling from the stair and being buried in snow and ice is a wonderful metaphor for the Old Ones being driven from the weirwoodnet when it is set on fire by Azor Ahai to become the Others! The fire literally drove them from the tree and into the ice.
One thinks about the bodies of the failed dreamers in Bran’s coma dream vision, the ones impaled in spires of ice; I’ve speculated that those somehow represent greenseers who became the Others. Bran flew, while those other dreamers fell, and Styr’s fall into the ice here reminds of the cold, impaled dreamers.
Thinking about the idea of the Green Men / Old Ones being kicked out of the weirwood and somehow locked in magical icy bodies, look again upon the words of Coldhands:
The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it.. old ones, and strong.
This line may itself be a clue about Old Ones being locked in the ice, so to speak – locked into the icy bodies that we see the in. Heck, the Wall does have a talking weirwood face beneath its ice at the Nightfort, a face which looks like that of a thousand year-old man. Perhaps that’s showing us what is underneath those glimmering icy bodies of the Others – a very old weirwood god. That face glows like milk and moonlight, while the bones of the Others are as pale as milkglass, for what it’s worth.
Oh, and you know how we keep seeing people with one leg in these scenes? Old one-leg at the well in Meereen, One-Eyed Ser Bartimus at the Wolf’s Den who is also missing a leg? Even Septon Maribald spoke of having more blisters than toes when he first went shoeless, and of his soles bleeding like pigs. Well, Jon is limping around on a crutch in all these scenes after having taken that arrow wound in the leg while fleeing the wildlings.
I have to assume this is a reference to Bran and the idea of crippled greenseers, especially since crippled Bran is present in the scene where Sam relays Coldhands’s words of the spells set into the Wall being Old Ones. The crippled symbolism is also a manifestation of the general concept of losing physical sight and abilities to gain spiritual mobility and sight. Jon is also fresh off of his wounding in one eye by Orell’s eagle here, so like Bartimus, he has an Odin eye-wound and some sort of one-legged status as he speaks of the old gods as the Old Ones. That’s a pretty cool correlation, and don’t forget that it was a King Jon Stark who built the Wolf’s Den!
Before we change sections, I have to confess that there is actually one more Old Ones quote that links to this in a tangential way. When Bowen Marsh receives word of Mormont’s ranging suffering defeat at the Fist of the First Men and realizes the wildling attack on the Wall is imminent, he sends a letter to each of the “five kings,” pleading for help. That is the letter that Davos famously finds when he is practicing his reading and takes to Stannis, leading to Stannis’s decision to come to the Wall. Here is the paragraph where Davos reads the letter:
“Give me another letter, if you would.”
“As you wish, my lord.” Maester Pylos rummaged about his table, unrolling and then discarding various scraps of parchment. “There are no new letters. Perhaps an old one …”
( . . . )
“This might serve our purpose.” Pylos passed him a letter. Davos flattened down the little square of crinkled parchment and squinted at the tiny crabbed letters. Reading was hard on the eyes, that much he had learned early. Sometimes he wondered if the Citadel offered a champion’s purse to the maester who wrote the smallest hand. Pylos had laughed at the notion, but … “To the … five kings,” read Davos, hesitating briefly over five, which he did not often see written out. “The king … be … the king … beware?”
“Beyond,” the maester corrected.
If any of these old ones usages are just a coincidence, this may be the one, but it still fits. The message by raven from the Lord Commander of the Watch – or in this case, his surrogate, the traitorous Bowen Marsh, the Old Pomegranate. The last hero would have been a Lord Commander of the Watch, and so too the Night’s King according to legend. The message has the effect of summoning Stannis, a stag man Azor Ahai figure, to come to the Wall to prepare to face the Others, which he and Melisandre regards as the “true enemy.”
In ASOS, Arya is a hostage of the Brotherhood without Banners, their “golden squirrel” as the outlaw Greenbeard says. They’ve taken her to Stoney Sept at the start of this scene, and the Old Ones clue is hiding in the form of the town gates, but the lead-in has some interesting stuff about a famous guy with an antler hat:
Stoney Sept was the biggest town Arya had seen since King’s Landing, and Harwin said her father had won a famous battle here. “The Mad King’s men had been hunting Robert, trying to catch him before he could rejoin your father,” he told her as they rode toward the gate. “He was wounded, being tended by some friends, when Lord Connington the Hand took the town with a mighty force and started searching house by house. Before they could find him, though, Lord Eddard and your grandfather came down on the town and stormed the walls. Lord Connington fought back fierce. They battled in the streets and alleys, even on the rooftops, and all the septons rang their bells so the smallfolk would know to lock their doors. Robert came out of hiding to join the fight when the bells began to ring. He slew six men that day, they say. One was Myles Mooton, a famous knight who’d been Prince Rhaegar’s squire. He would have slain the Hand too, but the battle never brought them together. Connington wounded your grandfather Tully sore, though, and killed Ser Denys Arryn, the darling of the Vale. But when he saw the day was lost, he flew off as fast as the griffins on his shield. The Battle of the Bells, they called it after. Robert always said your father won it, not him.”
More recent battles had been fought here as well, Arya thought from the look of the place. The town gates were made of raw new wood; outside the walls a pile of charred planks remained to tell what had happened to the old ones.
You can see how this one kind of pairs with the quote about the the two halves of the switchback stair being built together, the old one and the new one. Here, instead of a wooden stair, we have wooden gates, and again we have “the old ones” which have been burnt, just as the burnt half of the stair was labelled the old one at the Wall. Are these burned gates supposed to be symbolizing a burning weirwood too? Well, probably so, since weirwood doors are a big thing (the Black Gate at the Nightfort, the weirwood and ebony moon face doors to the House of Black and White, and the weirwood Moon Door at the Eyrie). Symbolically, the weirwoods function as the’ doors of perception,’ more or less, the doorway to godlike knowledge and astral projection and all that business. The weirwoods also represent the doors of death, the entrance to the netherworld or you might call it the astral plane… and so yes, burned Old Ones doors work pretty well as a weirwood symbol. I’ll also add that a pile of charred planks sounds a bit like a funeral pyre. A lot like one, actually!
The other notable thing is the story of the Battle of the Bells that precedes the line about the Old Ones. Robert is a Baratheon and a Storm Lord turned Storm King, and he loves antlered hats – and he was swinging that hammer of his all over the place here. Although he didn’t burn those old ones gates, that’s sort of the symbolic implication. It’s easier to see when you compare this quote to another Old Ones quote involving a place Robert definitely did destroy and burn:
Theon moved to the bow for a better view. He saw the castle first, the stronghold of the Botleys, a lesser house sworn to his father. When he was a boy it had been timber and wattle, but Robert Baratheon had razed that structure to the ground. Lord Sawane had rebuilt in stone, for now a small square keep crowned the hill. Pale green flags drooped from the squat corner towers; the Botley banner, he knew, emblazoned with a shoal of silvery fish. Beneath the dubious protection of the fish-ridden little castle lay the village of Lordsport, its harbor aswarm with ships. When last he’d seen Lordsport, it had been a smoking wasteland, the skeletons of burnt galleys lying black on the stony shore like the bones of dead leviathans, the houses no more than broken walls and cold ashes. After ten years, few traces of the war remained. The smallfolk had built new hovels with the stones of the old, and cut fresh sod for their roofs. A new inn had risen beside the landing, twice the size of the old one, with a lower story of cut stone and two upper stories of timber. The sept beyond had never been rebuilt, though; only a seven-sided foundation remained to show where it had stood. Robert Baratheon’s fury had soured the ironmen’s taste for the new gods, it would seem. Theon was more interested in ships than gods.
Many of you will remember this quote from The Grey King and the Sea Dragon episode, because this quote is a great one for showing that the sea dragon myth refers, in part, to ships, as we see shipwrecks at Lordsport described as the bones of leviathans. Today we are keying in on the old one usage, and the fact that all the damage Theon remembers being done here was done by Robert Baratheon and his mighty war-hammer, which of course a nod to Thor’s Mjollnir, but more importantly symbolic of a moon meteor hammer. The switchback stair – the old one – was like a wooden thunderbolt, and it caught on fire, and here at Lordsport, a Storm Lord with a thunder hammer burned and smashed everything, including that inn – the old one.
That’s why I look at the previous quote about Stoney Sept where we get a story about Robert Baratheon smashing things right before we are shown the burned and blackened old ones gates and see a common theme. The thunderbolt we keep seeing is the Storm God’s thunderbolt which created the burning tree, the one that conveys the fire of the gods to man, and so what we see in all these scene is that the Old Ones are tied to that burning tree.
We know how, too – weirwoods and moon meteors. The greenseers on the Isle of Faces were said to call down the Hammer of the Waters – which was a moon meteor, we think. But here it’s Robert dropping the hammer, and with him comes Thoros and his flaming sword, the first one through the breach. In other words, I think it’s another clue that the greenseers who called down the moon meteors were these horned lords, the green men, the Old Ones. Or as I mentioned earlier, it may be that their magic was used, or stolen, or one green man turned against the rest – maybe it was Nissa Nissa, a female of the Old Ones race instead of a cotf, whose Old Ones magic was used by Azor Ahai. Still, we’ve seen so many stag-man Azor Ahai figures to know that it’s possible Azor Ahai himself may be a naughty green man, in some sense.
While we are talking about ships burning pyres and the Old Ones, let me cut in a sort of random Old Ones quote from Davos’s Battle of the Blackwater chapter, because it actually does fit here. As we know from studying the sea dragon metaphor, burning boats often function as a symbol of the weirwoods, the tree that burns with the fire of the gods. The cool part of the sea dragon metaphor is that the weirwood is like a ship that the greenseer can use to sail the cosmos, you remember all that.
Weirwoods are like boats because they sail the universe. They’re like doors because they allow you to enter different realms. They’re like stairways because they allow man to reach into the heavens. They are like bridges because they span the river of time. They’re like coffins and tombs because dead people live in them. They’re like a rising mushroom cloud of ash because Yggdrasil is a great ash tree, because because the roots of the weirwoods connect like a fungal network, and because they called down the moon meteors that made the mushroom clouds. Everyone got all that? Versatile things, those weirwoods.
Anyway, at the Battle of the Blackwater, we got some of the best burning ship symbolism, because they all burnt with that treacherous green fire known as wildfire.
Between the flashing oars of Sceptre and Faithful, Davos saw a thin line of galleys drawn across the river, the sun glinting off the gold paint that marked their hulls. He knew those ships as well as he knew his own. When he had been a smuggler, he’d always felt safer knowing whether the sail on the horizon marked a fast ship or a slow one, and whether her captain was a young man hungry for glory or an old one serving out his days. Ahooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, the warhorns called.
Ha, right after the Old One captain is mentioned, a horn is sounded. The phrase “an old one serving out his days” kind of sounds like it’s talking about the Night’s Watch, which fits with the horn blowing. Of course it is the Lannister ships Davos is looking at which introduce wildfire to the battle, with all its fiery greenseer symbolism, so sure, why not an Old One as captain. As you probably remember, the wildfire basically takes the green see metaphor and sets it on fire, so this is really just another way of talking about Azor Ahai setting the weirwoodnet on fire, it seems to me. Any Old Ones captaining these ships will soon find themselves in a sea of green fire captaining a burning ship. At its most basic level, the interpretation here is the basic one we’ve already well-established: the Old Ones are greenseer who live in the weirwood and get burned. The burning ships and towering pillar of green fire that is loosed at the battle is very comparable to the burning staircase or any of the other ground zero bonfires.
Let’s turn away from burning ships as weirwood metaphors and turn back to burning doors and return to Arya’s chapter at Stoney Sept, because it turns out those burned old one gates were just a warm up. There are more Old Ones coming, and they seem to be members of the Night’s Watch.
In the market square at the town’s heart stood a fountain in the shape of a leaping trout, spouting water into a shallow pool. Women were filling pails and flagons there. A few feet away, a dozen iron cages hung from creaking wooden posts. Crow cages, Arya knew. The crows were mostly outside the cages, splashing in the water or perched atop the bars; inside were men. Lem reined up scowling. “What’s this, now?”
“Justice,” answered a woman at the fountain.
“What, did you run short o’ hempen rope?”
“Was this done at Ser Wilbert’s decree?” asked Tom.
A man laughed bitterly. “The lions killed Ser Wilbert a year ago. His sons are all off with the Young Wolf, getting fat in the west. You think they give a damn for the likes of us? It was the Mad Huntsman caught these wolves.”
Wolves. Arya went cold. Robb’s men, and my father’s. She felt drawn toward the cages. The bars allowed so little room that prisoners could neither sit nor turn; they stood naked, exposed to sun and wind and rain. The first three cages held dead men. Carrion crows had eaten out their eyes, yet the empty sockets seemed to follow her.
To begun with, this is obvious last hero math: twelve “crow cages” that contain “wolves” who fought in the army of the Starks. Arya is the thirteenth; she’s the Nightwolf and the “wolf girl.” A cool bit of foreshadowing: she’s going to get a head start on her faceless man training by offering these prisoners water right before her companions give them a clean death. Then later in the House of Black and White, she serves someone who wishes to die the seemingly poisoned waters of the dark pool, merging these two ideas.
In any case, Arya is the thirteenth wolf here, and the fact that these wolves are in crow cages really locks them down as symbolic Night’s Watch brothers – not only are they crows, they are prisoners, just as the members of the Watch are never allowed to abandon their service at the Wall and frequently arrive at the Wall as a result of being convicted of a crime.
The first three cages have dead bodies, and the crows have given them a bit of weirwood stigmata by eating out there eyes. One also recalls the story of the bad little boy who was struck by lightning and had his eyes eaten out by crows, a story told to Bran which is symbolic of Odin-like greenseer awakening. These dead crows a ready to be raised from the dead!
All of these prisoners were caught by the Mad Huntsman, who is a green man figure in his own right. This suggests a possible scenarios for the green zombie ritual: perhaps the green men capture and execute the last hero’s companions, only to raise them as the green zombie watch. That is one scenario I think is in play…. but we might also see the Mad Huntsman as evil Azor Ahai, killing green who later become the green zombies. That’s something we will have to explore as we look at more Old Ones quote sin the future (oh no, we aren’t going to get them all today, never you fear!) Picking back up with the scene:
The fourth man in the row stirred as she passed. Around his mouth his ragged beard was thick with blood and flies. They exploded when he spoke, buzzing around his head. “Water.” The word was a croak. “Please … water …”
The man in the next cage opened his eyes at the sound. “Here,” he said. “Here, me.” An old man, he was; his beard was grey and his scalp was bald and mottled brown with age. There was another dead man beyond the old one, a big red-bearded man with a rotting grey bandage covering his left ear and part of his temple. But the worst thing was between his legs, where nothing remained but a crusted brown hole crawling with maggots.
Sorry to keep that last line in, but the castration is an important part of the horned lord mythology, as Crowfood’s Daughter plans to explain in an upcoming video on her Disputed Lands channel. The Night’s Watch brothers and the Others have this in common; they are both brotherhoods of men who have their fertility taken away in the sense that they are forbidden to sire children, and as we have seen, they are symbolic of green men in the winter who have lost their fertility.
And now, here in this crow cage, we find one of the Old Ones, a member of this little symbolic Night’s Watch green zombie crew. It’s very like finding the wrong-smelling jailer Garth among the dozen people of the Wolf’s Den at White Harbor; Garth was the Old One if you recall. Ergo, we may have had some of the green men themselves in the last hero’s company, and if you notice, the Old One in the crow cage has skin which is “mottled brown with age.” That’s a very sneaky way of giving him dappled brown skin like the children of the forest, whose skin imitates that of a deer. The Lengi have medium golden brown skin too, so it may be that the green men actually have skin that looks more like that of the children.
Returning to the quote, Arya sees a fat men, cruelly crammed into the cage. She speaks to him, asking whose men they were:
At the sound of her voice, the fat man opened his eyes. The skin around them was so red they looked like boiled eggs floating in a dish of blood. “Water … a drink …”
Just jumping in here to say, “moon meteors.” Eggs floating in blood which are also eyes? yes, those are cooking moon egg symbols.
“A swallow,” the fat one called down. “Ha’ mercy, boy, a swallow.” The old one slid an arm up to grasp the bars. The motion made his cage swing violently. “Water,” gasped the one with the flies in his beard. She looked at their filthy hair and scraggly beards and reddened eyes, at their dry, cracked, bleeding lips. Wolves, she thought again. Like me. Was this her pack? How could they be Robb’s men? She wanted to hit them. She wanted to hurt them. She wanted to cry. They all seemed to be looking at her, the living and the dead alike. The old man had squeezed three fingers out between the bars. “Water,” he said, “water.”
Martin doubles up on the Old One label for the prisoner here, and that makes three “old ones” usages in this chapter in total, including the Old Ones burned gates. All the wolves in the crow cages have red eyes and bleeding lips, and this weirwood stigmata is exactly what we should expect to see here, as the green zombie theory calls for a weirwood-assisted resurrection for the last hero’s dozen companions. The cages, suspended as they are in space, are also a symbol of the weirwoods as a prison and a trap for greenseers, with the suspension simulating the flying of the greenseers. In other words, the greenseer’s body is tightly pinioned, like the men in the crow cages, but his spirit flies, and here the men in crow cages are suspended in the air and covered in flies… ha. Is this a joke Martin intended to make? I don’t know, but it’s funny, in a dark sort of way. (“You will never walk again, Bran but you will fly. Err, wait. You’ll be covered in flies, sorry.“)
A final note on this chapter: we find another rebuilt inn, just like at Lordsport, and wouldn’t ya know it… a green man.
On the east side of the market square stood a modest inn with whitewashed walls and broken windows. Half its roof had burnt off recently, but the hole had been patched over. Above the door hung a wooden shingle painted as a peach, with a big bite taken out of it. They dismounted at the stables sitting catty-corner, and Greenbeard bellowed for grooms. The buxom red-haired innkeep howled with pleasure at the sight of them, then promptly set to tweaking them. “Greenbeard, is it? Or Greybeard? Mother take mercy, when did you get so old?
Ha ha, he’s an old green man, get it? In any case, Inns can be used to symbolize weirwoods too, as we have seen with the Inn at the Trident, which used to span a river like a weir, which gets renamed “the Orphan Inn” when it is full of children, which is painted white like a weirwood, and which is called the “Gallows Inn” when Tywin comes there and hangs a bunch of people, including the inkeep Masha Heddle, who has vivid weirwood stigmata due to the sourleaf she always chews. Finding Nissa Nissa symbolism on the inkeeps is the biggest giveaway, and like Masha Heddle, the inkeep here at The Peach has Nissa Nissa symbolism. She’s a red-head, as you can see, and her name is Tansy – but tansy tea is also called moon tea, so she’s a moon-associated redhead… and we know what that means. She likes to sleep with Greenbeard, whom she immediately begins teasing here. Greenbeard himself is turning grey and old, which is kind of the point of the essay: old ones as green men.
You may remember the peaches of immortality from Sun Wukong, which we talked about in the Tyrion Targaryen episode, and you may recall from that story or elsewhere than peaches are often given this association. This fits the weirwood of course, which extends the lives of the greenseers long beyond their mortal days.
An interesting tidbit thing to note: Robert Baratheon almost certainly hid right here at the Peach during the Battle of the Bells. Jon Connigton, recalling the battle, thinks “At the end they had the usurper hidden in a brothel,” and there’s memory of this at the Peach. I simply have to quote this, it’s too good:
“They say King Robert fucked my mother when he hid here, back before the battle. Not that he didn’t have all the other girls too, but Leslyn says he liked my ma the best.”
The girl did have hair like the old king’s, Arya thought; a great thick mop of it, as black as coal. That doesn’t mean anything, though. Gendry has the same kind of hair too. Lots of people have black hair.
That last line is the giveaway; this is indeed one of Robert’s bastard children. Think about that: the inn represents the weirwood, and one of the children we find there is a child of Garth. Greenbeard may have also fathered children here, as many times as he has been through. Even the simple idea of Robert or Greenbeard staying here is suggestive of Green Men living inside the weirwood.
Finally, what Arya does at the Peach is noteworthy. First, she prevents and then almost causes Gendry to sleep with his half-sister Bella here, but that’s a different story. Arya first gets a bath where the maid scrubbed “Arya’s back with a stiff bristly brush that almost took her skin off.” Then she’s dressed in the famous acorn dress, which, in her own words, makes her like a tree – or like she’s inside a tree, which the inn represents. Then after she falls asleep alter, she enters the wolf-dream, leading Nymeria’s pack across the Riverlands, feasting on the flesh of horse they killed, and howling at the moon when it comes out. That again fits the inn as a symbolic weirwood; Arya enters it, dreams, and then skinchanges animals, just as Bran does. Her using the power of the weirwood dream to lead the wolfpack is basically a repeat symbolic depiction of Arya as Stark last hero leading the watch. One might even imagine Arya’s dream wolfpack as the resurrected wolves from the crow cages.
Now we can see why the old, burned gates to this town were labelled as the Old ones. A dozen wolves in crow cages, symbolic of the last hero’s green zombies, including one Old One, and they are being hung and killed right in front of a weirwood symbol – the inn – which is also labelled as being tied to the Old Ones! It’s a perfect mock-up of my proposed green zombie ceremony, where the dozen are killed and resurrected before a weirwood tree. That’s what’s going on here… and the Old Ones are everywhere.
Let’s finish with a great clue about the connection between the Old Ones and the Starks. We started our train of Old Ones quotes with Ned’s gods being “the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest,” so it’s a good way to close this episode. The Starks are very much allied with the Night’s Watch, both tactically and in terms of symbolism, and we’ve seen a lot of good last hero math applied to the statues of the Kings of Winter in the Crypts. Bearing that in mind, check out Ned’s conversation with Pycelle at King’s Landing in AGOT:
“My pardons, Lord Eddard. You did not come to hear foolish meanderings of a summer forgotten before your father was born. Forgive an old man his wanderings, if you would. Minds are like swords, I do fear. The old ones go to rust. Ah, and here is our milk.” The serving girl placed the tray between them, and Pycelle gave her a smile. “Sweet child.” He lifted a cup, tasted, nodded. “Thank you. You may go.”
So first of all, Pycelle is comparing old minds to old swords, and saying the old ones go to rust. But when one mentions rusty old swords in the presence of Ned Stark, descendant of the Kings of Winter, one naturally thinks of the iron long sword placed in the laps of the King of Winter statues, all but the most recent of which have gone to rust. Associating the original Kings of Winter with the Old Ones makes perfect sense of course, because based on our research here today, the Old Ones – the Green men – seem most strongly connected to the Others and the Green Zombie Night’s Watch. The Starks are tied to both those things, so again, finding whispering of the Old Ones in the Winterfell crypts makes perfect sense. It’s also another place tied to bran the Builder.
The other notable thing in this scene is the ice milk Pycelle is serving Ned. When we looked at this scene in detail previously, it seemed to us that the iced milk they were drinking and milk of the poppy they were discussing were both stand-in symbols for weirwood past. Just as Pycelle serves Ned ice milk here, he’s the one to serve Ned milk of the poppy after he breaks his leg fighting Jaime’s men in the streets of King’s Landing, which then launches him into the Tower of Joy dream. Thus, Pycelle, with his mind labelled an old one, becomes a psychopomp figure serving a Stark hero the food of the god which will make him dream. Pycelle is an old man who commands small children to bring the milk, and that compares well to Bloodraven who has children of the forest serve Bran weirwood paste.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
I often tell people that one of the most amazing things about A Song of Ice and Fire is George R. R. Martin’s ability to incorporate elements and ideas of so many different influences to create his own tapestry of symbol, archetype, and myth. As we all know, George studied Norse myth in college and draws from it quite heavily, and George also draws from J. R. R. Tolkien, who in turn drew upon Norse myth to create his fantasy world. But George is also drawing from many other mythologies and religions, as well as from selected bits of world history like the War of the Roses, and even from things like Marvel comics or Hanna Barbara’s Thundarr, an old Saturday morning cartoon that began each week with a runaway planet / red comet cracking the moon and causing disasters on earth, followed by a hero, Thundarr, who fights with a glowing white “sun sword.” It seems to me that George pulls from absolutely any idea or story which has influenced him along the journey of his life, be it myth, history, or comic, and he’ll even throw in references to obscure things like Oscar Wylde stories, Grateful Dead lyrics or the Giants – Patriots Super Bowl game. All of these and more are synthesized together into the harmonious maelstrom of stories and characters that make up A Song of Ice and Fire.
It might sound complicated and difficult, but just remember – the result is the highly readable series we know and love. ASOIAF never becomes weird or clunky because of these kinds of references to external ideas – you probably flew right by most of these things on your first read, as I did. Most of these influences show up in the symbolism, world-building, and the backgrounds of the characters – the things which make up the set and setting for the players to play on. The players themselves are always on center stage, but the richness of the set and the script owe a lot to Martin’s ability to creatively synthesize all the great things which have inspired him. By doing so, he’s carrying the torch of his forerunners and inspiring a new generation – people like you and me – to expand our knowledge of literature, myth, history, and I guess, Marvel comics. It’s almost like a time-capsule of story-telling.
I picture it working like this… at some point early on, Martin decides to include flaming swords in his story, being such a staple fantasy element. So, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, he’s going to draw upon all his favorite flaming swords from, well, everywhere. We get nods to Sigurd’s Gram, King Arthur’s Excalibur, Elric of Melnibone’s Stormbringer, the magic swords of Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Aragorn’s Narsil and the meteor swords Anguirel and Anglachel from Tolkien’s Silmarillion; and let’s not forget Darth Vader’s red lightsaber or Thundarr’s sun sword, or that flaming sword held in the hands of the angel guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden. Lightbringer is not a one-for-one adaption of any of these swords, but rather a descendant or cousin of them all.
Today we are going to talk about the Old Ones – both Martin’s version of the Old Ones and the more famous Old Ones from the works of H. P. Lovecraft. You might think that since H.P. Lovecraft is the only one to write about “the Old Ones,” Martin must be adapting them straight from Lovecraft, Au contraire, my friends! It turns out Lovecraft isn’t the only one to write about the Old Ones, and the other folks who have written about them lived centuries and centuries ago. What do I mean? Well, as George R. R. Martin says, “keep reading,” or “keep listening,” as it may be…
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
The Old Ones
So you’re cruising along, reading through TWOIAF and you’ve worked your way all the way to the Essos material in the back, and you come across this really weird place called the Holy Isle of Leng in the Jade Sea. It’s a large, verdant island which is home to “ten thousand tigers and ten million monkeys,” according to Lomas Longstrider. That sounds cool, and slightly weirder are the “spotted humpback apes said to be almost as clever as men” and “hooded apes as large as giants.” Ok, this place sounds exotic, you think to yourself, and it seems like evolution is happening here – then things start to get truly creepy in only the second paragraph:
Leng’s history goes back almost as far as that of Yi Ti itself, but little and less of it is known west of the Jade Straits. There are queer ruins in the depths of the island’s jungle: massive buildings, long fallen, and so overgrown that rubble remains above the surface…but underground, we are told, endless labyrinths of tunnels lead to vast chambers, and carved steps descend hundreds of feet into the earth. No man can say who might have built these cities, or when. They remain perhaps the only remnant of some vanished people.
Alright! If you’re at all like me, that’s the kind of thing that you get excited for. Underground cities? Some vanished people? Tell me more! Well, the narrative returns to conventional history about how Leng was colonized by Yi Ti and has two types of people, the very tall native Lengii and the short Yi Tish – but your eyes can’t help but roam down to the sidebar on the next page, where it tells us more about those ruins in the jungle, and it is here that we encounter the Old Ones:
Legends persist that the Old Ones still live beneath the jungle of Leng. So many of the warriors that Jar Har sent down below the ruins returned mad or not at all that the god-emperor finally decreed the vast underground cities’ ruins should be sealed up and forgotten. Even today, it is forbidden to enter such places, under penalty of torture and death.
Hot damn! Now that is the good shit – underground cities from which people either come back insane or not at all! It’s very mysterious, and there’s one other reference to the Old Ones in the Leng section a bit further on:
It was mariners from the Golden Empire who opened Leng to trade, yet even then the island remained a perilous place for outsiders, for the Empress of Leng was known to have congress with the Old Ones, gods who lived deep below the ruined subterranean cities, and from time to time the Old Ones told her to put all the strangers on the island to death. This is known to have happened at least four times in the island’s history if Colloquo Votar’s Jade Compendium can be believed.
Ok, so it’s even creepier now – the God Empress of Leng “has congress with the Old Ones” and every once in a while they just tell her to ‘execute all the foreigners?’ That’s… lovely. “Vote Kiara for Congress: Death to All Foreigners!” Things are a bit better these days, with no more executions and an independent Leng ruled by a God Empress who takes one Yi-Tish husband and one native Lengii husband, and the Old Ones are not mentioned by name anywhere else in ASOIAF, at least not directly. So it’s hard to know what to do with these tales of the Old Ones and their creepy underground cities… unless you’ve read any Lovecraft.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the works of H.P. Lovecraft will probably recognize the phrase “the Old Ones.” The Old Ones are (quoting from the Lovecraft Fandom wiki) “a group of unique, malignant beings of great power. They reside in various locations on Earth, and once presided over the planet as gods and rulers.” They are separate from other gods and monsters such as the Deep Ones (who also appear in ASOIAF lore) or the Cthonians or beings like Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, and Nyarlathotep. The Old Ones use a lot mind control and psychic warfare and are generally bad news for mortals.
Generally speaking, there are a handful of clear references to H. P. Lovecraft in far eastern Essos, such as K’Dath, a city in the Grey Waste beyond the Five Forts, or Carcosa, which is similarly beyond the realms of mortal men on the edge of the map. Leng itself is a name drawn from Lovecraftian lore, where it takes the form of either a plateau that exists only in the dreamworld or, possibly (it varies a bit from story to story) as an ancient city in Antarctica built by – who else – the Old Ones. Then there is Ib, Sarnath, the Cult of Starry Wisdom, all of which are from Lovecraft, as well as basically everything about Asshai and that black meteor worshiped by the Bloodstone Emperor (who founded the ASOIAF version of the Church of Starry Wisdom), since magically toxic meteors that poison people and the land is a reoccurring element of a few Lovecraft stories.
So if you recognized any of those nods to Lovecraft as you read the eastern sections, you probably came away with the idea that just as Martin draws from Tolkien and the same Norse myth Tolkien drew from to create most of the Northern culture and weirwood magic, he’s using a lot of Lovecraft ideas to create eastern Essos. You’d be right, and I think Martin is actually making a statement about Lovecraftian lore here. Tolkien is credited with creating the template for fantasy fiction, and eventually fantasy authors began using and re-purposing his orcs and elves and hobbits in their own fiction. By having his own version of Deep Ones and Old Ones, Martin is telling us that Lovecraft’s monsters have entered the universal fantasy lexicon, along with the orcs and hobbits, and that authors should feel free to adapt them to their own stories.
However, for some reason a lot of people make the mistake of recognizing the Lovecraftian influence in some of these elements of ASOIAF and concluding that they are “just” nods to Lovecraft, as if that precludes them from being relevant to the story. That’s silly, because George gives nods to all kinds of stuff, constantly, and it never means that that’s “all” it is. One of the famous football references comes in the middle of Jon’s death scene, with “wun wun the giant” standing in for Phil Sims, a Giants Quarterback who wore the number eleven (one-one). Ser Patrek wears a blue star on silver and white like the Dallas Cowboys, the hated rivals of the Giants. But those blue stars also help Ser Patrek to symbolize the Others in another scene, and of course Jon’s death scene itself is kind of important! So while some of these Lovecraft nods don’t really mean much, like the cities in the Grey Waste, the concept of the Old Ones is not inconsequential, but rather something more.
The tales of people going mad from exploring the ruins of the Old Ones in the jungles of Leng is very, very consistent with Lovecraft, where the human mind’s struggle to maintain sanity in the face of forces far greater than itself is a major theme of his work – perhaps the major theme. People are constantly going insane in Lovecraft stories, to put it simply, and it’s always due to mankind trying to comprehend something to which is just too terrifying for the human mind. In the Lovecraft Universe Leng is an abandoned city built by the Old Ones or a plateau with multiple abandoned cities, as I mentioned, and in the ASOIAF universe it’s an island with abandoned cities built by the Old Ones – pretty much the same thing. The Old Ones whispering in the ear of the Empress and commanding her to commit mass murder is also very Lovecraftian and consistent with the modus operandi of the Lovecraftian Old Ones, who tend to use psychic invasion / suggestion as their preferred tool. But there’s something else going on with Leng that is very mysterious that at first doesn’t appear to really have anything to do with Lovecraft… but which will lead us back to a different sort of Old One.
It has to do with those native Lengi people:
On the southern third of Leng dwell the descendants of those displaced by the invaders from the Golden Empire. The native Lengii are perhaps the tallest of all the known races of mankind, with many men amongst them reaching seven feet in height, and some as tall as eight. Long-legged and slender, with flesh the color of oiled teak, they have large golden eyes and can supposedly see farther and better than other men, especially at night. Though formidably tall, the women of the Lengii are famously lithe and lovely, of surpassing beauty.
Large, golden eyes that can see better in the dark, hello! That can only remind us of one thing: the children of the forest.
That was not Arya’s voice, nor any child’s. It was a woman’s voice, high and sweet, with a strange music in it like none that he had ever heard and a sadness that he thought might break his heart. Bran squinted, to see her better. It was a girl, but smaller than Arya, her skin dappled like a doe’s beneath a cloak of leaves. Her eyes were queer—large and liquid, gold and green, slitted like a cat’s eyes. No one has eyes like that. Her hair was a tangle of brown and red and gold, autumn colors, with vines and twigs and withered flowers woven through it.
That was from ADWD, and elsewhere it says they have nut-brown skin. You may not have a clear image in your mind of teak – the word used to describe the skin tone of the Lengii – but it’s basically a golden-hued medium brown, with “oiled teak” suggesting a shade darker than medium. The point I am making is obvious – the skin tone of the native Lengi is very close to that of the children, and the very unique large golden eyes which can see in the dark again reminds us of the children of the forest. Now, the Lengi don’t have slitted cat’s eyes like the children – although the tiger symbolism of Lengi’s valued tiger skins (which Illyrio trades in by the way) could be a nod to cat’s eyes, and perhaps even skinchanging. However, large eyes are generally found on creatures which are either nocturnal or cave-dwelling, and like the Old Ones in their underground cities, the children of the forest we see are living underground, in Bloodraven’s cavern. In AGOT, Maester Luwin tells us they’ve always done so:
They were a people dark and beautiful, small of stature, no taller than children even when grown to manhood. They lived in the depths of the wood, in caves and crannogs and secret tree towns. Slight as they were, the children were quick and graceful.
Note the physical descriptions here: dark and beautiful, slight, quick, and graceful; compare that to the Lengii, who are described as slender, lithe, and lovely; and again, with matching skin tones and eye color. If the Lengii were not so tall, most everyone who read TWOIAF would have immediately suspected them of having children of the forest blood!
So here’s what I think. I think the Old Ones of ASOIAF are some kind cousin to the children of the forest, the “tall elves” to the children’s “short elves” I think the native Lengii interbred with these tall, elf-like Old Ones – just as all there are hints of people breeding with magical beings all over the story. I think the unusual traits we see in the native Lengii are evidence of their Old Ones ancestry, and clue us in to what the Old Ones look like. This would be comparable to Jojen having moss green eyes like a child of the forest greenseer; the crannogmen have a trace of children of the forest blood, and so they are a bit shorter than average men and occasionally turn up with green eyes and green gifts like Jojen’s green eyes and greensight. The large, golden eyes which are ideal for seeing in the dark that the Lengii possess really do make sense as a trait originally found in the subterranean -dwelling Old Ones.
Likewise, we can assume that the extreme height is an Old Ones trait. If the Old Ones were short like the children, the Lengi would have become shorter by interbreeding with them, as the Crannogmen did. Instead, the native Lengii are said to be the tallest people in the world, rivaling the tall men of Sarnor and the long-vanished Mazemakers of Lorath who left behind only their mazes and very large bones behind. From this I can only conclude that if the Lengii interbred with the Old Ones, the height of the native Lengii can probably be traced to the Old Ones, just as the golden eyes probably can be. If they are some kind of elf, that would make sense – fantasy elves (like those in the Lord of the Rings) are frequently tall, after all. They would be some sort of taller cousin to the children, perhaps.
Now, we’ll come back to the height issue in a moment, but there was an exciting clue about children of the forest and caves delivered to us in the Arianne chapter of TWOW that George has released early. There is a passage where Arianne is in the Rainwood in the Stormlands, a place that used to populated with children of the forest, and she’s underground in a cave and sees something rather remarkable:
…all at once she found herself in another cavern, five times as big as the last one, surrounded by a forest of stone columns. Daemon Sand moved to her side and raised his torch.
“Look at how that stone’s been shaped. Those columns in the wall there. See them?”
“Faces,” said Arianne. So many sad eyes, staring. “This place belonged to the Children of the Forest.”
“A thousand years ago.”
We’ve seen the children living in caves, but this is something entirely new here – carved faces such as one would see on a weirwood tree, but instead carved into stone. The stone columns are described as a forest, which makes us wonder if perhaps they are actually petrified weirwood trees, turned to stone in the ancient past, but one certainly has to wonder how weirwoods could grow this far underground without any light. If this cave weren’t so deep underground, maybe we could speculate that the topography has changed to somehow of the eons, but it really doesn’t make sense as it is – there’s really no way open ground suitable for trees becomes a cave deep underground, even after thousands of years.
No, it would seem that what have here is just what it looks like – evidence of children of the forest carving heart tree-style faces into stone. “Is it possible that…” (Ancient Aliens voice) …the carvers of these faces were able to look out through their stone eyes as they would the face of a heart tree? That would be something of a game-changer; however we can’t make this assumption without more evidence – they might have simply been carved to look like heart trees for a more ornamental / symbolic purpose. Setting aside the issue of the faces, we’ve really never seen any evidence of the children working in stone at all, apart from perhaps flint-napping some dragonglass knives for the black brothers – so this really has the potential to change the way we view the children. We are told they did not built castles and cities as man does, only those secret tree towns (which I presume look like Ewok villages), but is it possible they were doing more underground than simply living in caves? Were they shaping the stone, like the Old Ones in the underground cities?
The only other suggestion of the children doing anything with stone comes in Cat’s memory of the legend of Storm’s End from ACOK:
A seventh castle he raised, most massive of all. Some said the children of the forest helped him build it, shaping the stones with magic; others claimed that a small boy told him what he must do, a boy who would grow to be Bran the Builder.
It’s always been hard to know what to make of the notion of the children “shaping stones with magic,” since that doesn’t sound like anything we associate with the children – I’ve suggested before this might be a garbled account of dragonlords using their fused stone technology at Storm’s End or perhaps elsewhere, although if there is fused stone at Storm’s End then it would have to be hidden beneath its curtain wall, which doesn’t really make sense. If you could make fused stone, you’d probably just make the whole castle from it as opposed to only the base or foundation. Still, it’s possible the outer masonry we see was added later, so we can’t rule it out – all we know is that the only people said to have been able to shape stone with magic are dragonlords creating fused stone with dragonfire and sorcery.
The fact we can’t come to a satisfactory explanation for this line about the children shaping stone with magic is what makes it tantalizing – there’s a mystery here we don’t understand yet, it seems. It’s possible the answer has something to do with those stone faces on the pillars in that cave in the Rainwood. It seems likely that we don’t know everything there is to know about the children yet, and I think George has intentionally kept their secrets for the last leg of the story. We already expect to learn a lot more about them from Bran’s weirwood visions in TWOW, and the fact that he has a character who’s plot line doesn’t really involve greenseer-related stuff, Arianne, wandering into an old children of the forest cave really shows that this is something that is coming to the fore in the final books.
Still, with all that said, Leng is a loooong way from Westeros. However if you’ve read TWOIAF you probably remember the tale of the Ifequevron, a short race a woods-people that used to live in Essos, north of the Dothraki Sea and South of Ib. There are two quotes about them:
In the southeast the proud city-states of the Qaathi arose; in the forests to the north, along the shores of the Shivering Sea, were the domains of the woodswalkers, a diminutive folk whom many maesters believe to have been kin to the children of the forest…
And then this one, courtesy of the Sea Snake:
The fabled Sea Snake, Corlys Velaryon, Lord of the Tides, was the first Westerosi to visit these woods. After his return from the Thousand Islands, he wrote of carved trees, haunted grottoes, and strange silences. A later traveler, the merchant-adventurer Bryan of Oldtown, captain of the cog Spearshaker, provided an account of his own journey across the Shivering Sea. He reported that the Dothraki name for the lost people meant “those who walk in the woods.” None of the Ibbenese that Bryan of Oldtown met could say they had ever seen a woods walker, but claimed that the little people blessed a household that left offerings of leaf and stone and water overnight.
These “woods walkers” sound exactly like children of the forest, or very similar to them, and “woods walker” is a phrase that reminds us a lot of “white walkers of the woods,” another name for the Others (who seem to have been created in part through greenseer magic). Setting the potential clue about the Others aside, it would seem that the story of the Ifequevron is included in ASOIAF primarily to show us that children of the forest – or creatures of their sort – once lived throughout the wold, and not only in Westeros.
There’s one other potential race of beings that sound like they could be related to the children:
Northwest of Sothoryos, in the Summer Sea, lies the mysterious island of Naath, known to the ancients as the Isle of Butterflies. The people native to the island are a beautiful and gentle race, with round flat faces, dusky skin, and large, soft amber eyes, oft flecked with gold. The Peaceful People, the Naathi are called by seafarers, for they will not fight even in defense of their homes and persons. The Naathi do not kill, not even beasts of the field and wood; they eat fruit, not flesh, and make music, not war.
The god of Naath is called the Lord of Harmony, oft shown as a laughing giant, bearded and naked, always attended by swarms of slender maidens with butterfly wings. A hundred varieties of butterflies flitter about the island; the Naathi revere them as messengers of the Lord, charged with the protection of his people. Mayhaps there is some truth to these legends, for whilst the docile nature of the Naathi seem to make their island ripe for conquest, strangers from beyond the sea do not live long upon the Isle of Butterflies.
Again we see the large, golden eyes present, and the approximate skin tone and size are also potential matches. One can’t help but notice the Daoist philosopy of the Lord of Harmony, which is very consistent with the beliefs of the children, and like the children, the Naathi to live in nature and seem to be largely peaceful. They worship a very Garth-like figure, it must be said – bearded and laughing and naked, and surrounded by swarms of maidens? He’s very, very Garth-like.
Naath is quite far away from… well, everything, really, and again we find ourselves on an island, as we were with Leng. The children of the forest tell Bran that they have sung their songs for a thousand thousand years, which would mean one million years, and although we have no way to know the truth of that, it seems logical to view Leng, the forest of the Ifequevron, and Naath as the last little pockets and remnants of “the elves” that remain outside of Westeros – if in fact these other races are related to the children of the forest at all.
A complementary idea to that of children and related elf creatures once having lived outside of Westeros is the fact that giants seem to have existed outside of Westeros – namely, the Jogwihn, the so-called “stone giants.”
The quest to puzzle out the nature of the Old Ones has one other thread to follow, besides the elf-related ideas. There are two other cultures which we might be able to draw a tentative link to, primarily based on height, and those would be the Sarnori and the ancient Lorathi. The Sarnori (Tagaez Fen in their language, which means the tall men) are relevant because the very approximate physical description mostly matches the Lengii: they are exceptionally tall and have a similar medium-dark, golden skin tone (they actually sound a lot like the Dothraki, whom they are almost certainly related to). The difference is the eye color; the Sarnori typically had black eyes (again like the Dothraki) instead of the golden eyes of the Lengi.
As I mentioned earlier, both Leng and Sarnor are words taken from Lovecraft, so it’s very plausible Martin is imaging the AOSIAF versions of these places as being linked as well. The ancestors of the Sarnori seem to have come over the Bones Mountains from eastern Essos (the former lands of the Great Empire of the Dawn), and they have their own Azor Ahai-like legend of a hero named Huzhor Amai. That could be relevant, because according to YiTish history, Leng was a part of the Great Empire of the Dawn. That means there actually could be a plausible genetic link between the Sarnori and Leng, albeit a very ancient one.
Lorath is perhaps the more intriguing match. Here I am speaking of the ancient people who first settled there, who do not appear to be related to or connected with the later inhabitants of the city known as Lorath. Before the modern-day city was built, there was an interesting religious cult who lived here, the followers of the Blind God Boash, who were ascetics who sought after enlightenment and nirvana. But before them, there was a people known only to us as the Mazemakers.
Sprawling constructs of bewildering complexity, made from blocks of hewn stone, the mazemakers’ constructions are scattered across the isles—and one, badly overgrown and sunk deep into the earth, has been found on Essos proper, on the peninsula south of Lorath. Lorassyon, the second largest of the Lorath isles, is home to a vast maze that fills more than threequarters of the surface area of the island and includes four levels beneath the ground, with some passages descending five hundred feet.
Scholars still debate the purpose of these mazes. Were they fortifications, temples, towns? Or did they serve some other, stranger purpose? The mazemakers left no written records, so we shall never know. Their bones tell us that they were massively built and larger than men, though not so large as giants. Some have suggested that mayhaps the mazemakers were born of interbreeding between human men and giant women. We do not known why they disappeared, though Lorathi legend suggests they were destroyed by an enemy from the sea: merlings in some versions of the tale, selkies and walrus-men in others.
The underground portions of these stone mazes – which seem to be the larger portion of the complex as a whole – really do match the descriptions we are given of the underground cities in the jungles of Leng. That doesn’t mean they’re connected of course, but when taken together with the very large skeletons which seem to be somewhere between the height of giants (12′ – 14′) and men – it seems like we are in the 8 feet or so region again, like the Lengi and Sarnori. The main difference between the mazes of Lorath and the subterranean cities of Leng is the insanity – there are no reports of bad things happening to people who visit the mazes of Lorath, certainly not like at Leng. We don’t know why that is – perhaps the Old Ones abandoned the Lorathi site after their wars with the merlings and selkies, but remain on Leng to give the God-Empress bad advice on issues of tourism and immigration; or perhaps one place is cursed and the other not, or perhaps there’s some other reason.
Overall, these links are tentative – and they are meant to be. George is trying to create the feel of older cycles of existence lying beneath the layers of more modern history, so all we can ever get are glimpses of the Deep Ones or the Old Ones or the Mazemakers. They are supposed to tantalize us and leave us wondering what came before. However, when Martin references things from other famous works of literature like the Old Ones, he’s inviting us to dig into the source material to get a better sense of the context he’s drawing from. In this case, I read a long and twisting Lovecraft story called “The Doom that Came to Sarnath, and I found some juicy nuggets which will inform our quest for the truth that lies beneath the jungles of Leng. I also told you that Lovecraft wasn’t the only one to write about the old ones, so let’s take a look at those things to see what was on Martin’s mind when he crated these mysteries.
Return of the Men with Antler Hats
Here’s where Martin’s creative blending of multiple outside influences comes in. “The Old Ones” are a race of Lovecraftian beings, it’s true enough. But we’ve also talked quite a lot about the horned god archetype of European folklore which can manifest as Cernunnos, or Herne the Hunter or the Green Man or a host of other related horned deities, and of the absolutely massive influence this folklore has on ASOIAF. Curiously, one of the classic names for the horned god is “the great old one.”
Dun dun dun!
This is kind of important, because as we know, the horned god ideas feature prominently in the legends and culture of Westeros, from Garth the Green to the Sacred Order of Green Men on the Isle of Faces to the antler hats of House Durrandon and then Baratheon to the Horned Lord constellation and the legendary wildling King-Beyond-the-Wall of the same name. If the Old Ones of Leng are playing into this stag man / horned lord idea, they might be more relevant to the story that first appeared. The idea of Cernunnos as an “Old One” is also a big boost for the theory that the Old Ones are some kind of elf creature, potentially related to the children of the forest – Cernunnos is very elflike, and more specifically, he’s a stag-man, and the children have brown skin dappled with white spots like a deer. You can kind of see how this could come together – the Old Ones could be our long lost race of stag men!
Specifically I am thinking about Garth the Green and the Sacred Order on Green Men who were mysteriously “formed” after the ancient Pact between children and First Men that was signed on the Isle of Faces. We’ve been wondering what those “green men” are, assuming they are not just children of the forest – my two best ideas were that they were either green men as in green zombies, like Coldhands, or that they were indeed some kind of elf-like, stag man humanoid. Well, it could certainly be both – zombie stag men, if you will – but lets think about the stag man / tall elf option on its own. Could the Old Ones from Leng be our stag men, who are created in the image of “The Great Old One,” the horned god himself? Did they come all the way to Westeros to become the green men who live on the Isle of Faces? Or perhaps the Old Ones on Leng and the Green Men are simply related / similar beings?
Well, as Bran tells us, “All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers.” Bran learned from Old Nan that “The green men ride on elks,” and that “sometimes they have antlers too.” We knew that already, and we know this image of the stag man is an old and powerful one which left its imprint all over Westeros. Garth the Green is cast in the role of a stag man and fertility god, and he was said to be the first man in Westeros. The Durrandon tradition of the antlered man dates back to ancient times in all likelihood, while even the wildlings, cut of from Westeros by the Wall, know of the tradition. Grigg the Goat – who is implied as a horned fellow, you will notice – tells Jon he dreams of visiting the Green Men on the Isle of Faces, and they even refer to the constellation Westeros calls the Stallion as the Horned Lord. So it’s an old, old tradition, perhaps the oldest set of cultural / religious beliefs in Westeros.
Was it based in fact? Did these stag men ever exist? Are the Green Men who guard the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces really the Old Ones from Leng?
Well, what if I told you that in Lovecraft’s version of Leng, the native race of humanoids is a type of “horned and hooved almost-human?” That’s right, although the Old Ones themselves are weird, five-tentacled and five-winged blob things, the abandoned cities on the plateau of Leng are inhabited by some horny goat people, as we see in Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. They actually sail pitch-black merchant ships around the dreamworld, and can even fly them to the moon. In Dream-Quest, they abduct the main character on one of these ships and take him to the dark side of the moon, but fortunately he is rescued by cats, whom he had previously befriended.
Don’t ask about the cats, it’s a weird story. The point is that horny humanoids on Leng is not a new idea. I mean, I did come up with it on my own through the process outlines in up to this point, but then someone told me that yeah, actually Lovecraft already put horned folk on Leng. Here’s a bit from Dream-Quest, and the scene starts with the main character, Randolph Carter, flying on the back of a wyvern-like creature called a Shantak:
The Shantak now flew lower, revealing beneath the canopy of cloud a grey barren plain whereon at great distances shone little feeble fires. As they descended there appeared at intervals lone huts of granite and bleak stone villages whose tiny windows glowed with pallid light. And there came from those huts and villages a shrill droning of pipes and a nauseous rattle of crotala which proved at once that Inquanok’s people are right in their geographic rumours. For travellers have heard such sounds before, and know that they float only from the cold desert plateau which healthy folk never visit; that haunted place of evil and mystery which is Leng.
Around the feeble fires dark forms were dancing, and Carter was curious as to what manner of beings they might be; for no healthy folk have ever been to Leng, and the place is known only by its fires and stone huts as seen from afar. Very slowly and awkwardly did those forms leap, and with an insane twisting and bending not good to behold; so that Carter did not wonder at the monstrous evil imputed to them by vague legend, or the fear in which all dreamland holds their abhorrent frozen plateau. As the Shantak flew lower, the repulsiveness of the dancers became tinged with a certain hellish familiarity; and the prisoner kept straining his eyes and racking his memory for clues to where he had seen such creatures before.
They leaped as though they had hooves instead of feet, and seemed to wear a sort of wig or headpiece with small horns. Of other clothing they had none, but most of them were quite furry. Behind they had dwarfish tails, and when they glanced upward he saw the excessive width of their mouths. Then he knew what they were, and that they did not wear any wigs or headpieces after all. For the cryptic folk of Leng were of one race with the uncomfortable merchants of the black galleys that traded rubies at Dylath-Leen; those not quite human merchants who are the slaves of the monstrous moon-things! They were indeed the same dark folk who had shanghaied Carter on their noisome galley so long ago, and whose kith he had seen driven in herds about the unclean wharves of that accursed lunar city, with the leaner ones toiling and the fatter ones taken away in crates for other needs of their polypous and amorphous masters. Now he saw where such ambiguous creatures came from, and shuddered at the thought that Leng must be known to these formless abominations from the moon.
I’m not saying this is exactly what Martin pictures the Sacred Order of Green Men looking like, but I can tell you from some of the moon lore in this book and other clues that Martin has almost certainly read this particular book which contains the idea of horned creatures doing occult things around camp fires in a forbidden land called Leng. They aren’t the Old Ones themselves, as I said, but Martin likes to switch things around when he borrows from them anyway. If my hypothesis that a race of horned or antlered humanoids known as the green men in Westeros are related to or the same as the mysterious Old Ones on the Isle of Leng in the Jade Sea is correct, then it would simply mean Martin switched things around a bit and made his Old Ones the horned creatures themselves instead of the vanished people who made their cities.
Given that Cernunnos, the OG stag man nature god whom Martin seems to adore, just so happens to be known as “The Great Old One,” this change is actually a stroke of genius. It seems that he noticed weird intersection of horned people and the phrase “old ones” that exists between the horny goat people living in the cities of the Old Ones on Lovecraft’s Leng and the horny Cernunnos who is called The Great Old One, and thought he would have himself a lark. And thus we get Martin’s Old Ones of Leng, who are really the same as the Green Men from the Isle of Faces. They’re tall and dark and presumably, terrifyingly beautiful, and they wear antler hats and do moon magic.
The fact that Lovecraft’s horned creatures – referred to as “the men of Leng” – can sail to the moon on a ship in the dreamworld works very well with some of the Mythical Astronomy theories about what Martin is doing with the green men and the moon. Namely, I believe the legend of mass sacrifice on the Isle of Faces to call down the Hammer of the Waters is actually a telling of Azor Ahai performing a blood magic ritual with a child of the forest Nissa Nissa that cracked the moon. The simple idea of the horned folk from Lovecraft’s Leng being able to sail ships in the dreamscape also seems very compatible with the basic notion of the green men as greenseers who sail the astral plane on their weirwood “boats.”
When you read about those underground ruins in the jungles of Martin’s Leng that lead down… to god knows where, that’s very similar to the main city of Lovecraft’s plateau of Leng, and once again we see it thronging with horny folk:
There, all alone in the hush and the dusk and the cold, rose the uncouth stones of a squat windowless building, around which a circle of crude monoliths stood. In all this arrangement there was nothing human, and Carter surmised from old tales that he was indeed come to that most dreadful and legendary of all places, the remote and prehistoric monastery wherein dwells uncompanioned the High-Priest Not To Be Described, which wears a yellow silken mask over its face and prays to the Other Gods and their crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.
( . . . )
..Carter followed where he led, and passed within the circle of standing rocks and into the low arched doorway of that windowless stone monastery. There were no lights inside, but the evil merchant lit a small clay lamp bearing morbid bas-reliefs and prodded his prisoner on through mazes of narrow winding corridors. On the walls of the corridors were printed frightful scenes older than history, and in a style unknown to the archaeologists of earth. After countless aeons their pigments were brilliant still, for the cold and dryness of hideous Leng keep alive many primal things. Carter saw them fleetingly in the rays of that dim and moving lamp, and shuddered at the tale they told.
Through those archaic frescoes Leng’s annals stalked; and the horned, hooved, and wide-mouthed almost-humans danced evilly amidst forgotten cities. There were scenes of old wars, wherein Leng’s almost-humans fought with the bloated purple spiders of the neighbouring vales; and there were scenes also of the coming of the black galleys from the moon, and of the submission of Leng’s people to the polypous and amorphous blasphemies that hopped and floundered and wriggled out of them. Those slippery greyish-white blasphemies they worshipped as gods, nor ever complained when scores of their best and fatted males were taken away in the black galleys. The monstrous moon-beasts made their camp on a jagged isle in the sea, and Carter could tell from the frescoes that this was none other than the lone nameless rock he had seen when sailing to Inquanok; that grey accursed rock which Inquanok’s seamen shun, and from which vile howlings reverberate all through the night.
And in those frescoes was shewn the great seaport and capital of the almost-humans; proud and pillared betwixt the cliffs and the basalt wharves, and wondrous with high fanes and carven places. Great gardens and columned streets led from the cliffs and from each of the six sphinx-crowned gates to a vast central plaza, and in that plaza was a pair of winged colossal lions guarding the top of a subterrene staircase. Again and again were those huge winged lions shewn, their mighty flanks of diarite glistening in the grey twilight of the day and the cloudy phosphorescence of the night. And as Carter stumbled past their frequent and repeated pictures it came to him at last what indeed they were, and what city it was that the almost-humans had ruled so anciently before the coming of the black galleys. There could be no mistake, for the legends of dreamland are generous and profuse. Indubitably that primal city was no less a place than storied Sarkomand, whose ruins had bleached for a million years before the first true human saw the light, and whose twin titan lions guard eternally the steps that lead down from dreamland to the Great Abyss.
Down to the Great Abyss… alrighty then. Cheerful guy, that Lovecraft. So as you can see, the horned men of Leng used to rule this ancient city of Sarkomand before becoming enthralled to the nasty moon-beasts. They ruled it… oh let’s see, over a million years ago, okay, so that’s pretty old. You kind of get the idea here – this is basically the lore that Martin is tapping into when he speaks of ruined, subterranean cities on a forbidden isle called Leng where men go down into the earth and come out mad, or not at all. And at the risk of repeating myself – the big takeaway is that these ancient, creepy cities of Leng are the dominion of people with horns growing out of their head. Ergo, it’s not as crazy as it first sounded, my theory about horny Garth people being the truth behind both the Sacred Order of Green Men on the Isle of Faces and the Old Ones on the Isle of Leng.
I’ll also point out that the ideas of the God Empress of Leng periodically getting advice from the Old Ones to sacrifice all the foreigners on the island kind of reminds me of the legend of the children sacrificing hundreds of captive humans on the Isle of Faces to call down the Hammer. In both cases we have mass human sacrifice on an island, though we can only speculate about the Old Ones in turn harnessing the power of these mass sacrifices on Leng to work some sort of magic.
Martin has said we will get to see the Isle of Faces before the series is out, and it’s foreshadowed heavily in the first three books as well as in the more recent histories of Targaryen-ruled Westeros. That means we should get a glimpse of these green men, whatever they are, and when we do, we might see some sort of Cernunnos-looking antlered dude. He probably will not explain that see, thousands of years ago, his ancestors came here from Leng when the God Empress of Leng was happily married to a God Emperor of the Great Empire of the Dawn, but then the whole Bloodstone Emperor thing happened and everything went south and they ended up stuck in Westeros on this foggy isle… no, Cernunnos won’t explain that to whichever of our heroes ends up going to the Isle of Faces, but you and I will know that we stand before of the Great Old Ones from the – how did he put it – “that haunted place of evil and mystery which is Leng.”
There’s one more angle to this, and again it consists of Martin finding a weird natural confluence of Lovecraftian ideas and European folklore. So, among the grouping of incomprehensible deities known as the Great Old Ones, a group which includes Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep among many others, we find one named Yig. Yig is a Great Old One who is known as the father of serpents, and he takes the form of a snake with scaled arms like a human. Of course we also know that Martin used the name Ygg in Ironborn folklore as a way of referring to the weirwoods, and this is of course a shortening of the name Yggdrasil, upon which the weirwoods are based. But if the Old Ones are the green men, and if they are greenseers, then we have Old Ones living inside an Ygg tree… and one of Lovecraft’s Old Ones is Yig. Even better, our idea about Azor Ahai – the father of dragons – invading the weirwoodnet would merge both Ygg / Yig ideas, and give is a dragon in a Ygg tree who is the father of serpents and who is either an Old One or who is using their magic.
Sooo… that’s the theory. It’s not bad, if I do say so myself – the idea of some old tall elvish race living in caves beneath Leng is pretty fun, and since we should get a glimpse of the Isle of Faces, we stand a good chance of finding out if it is true or not. But here’s the thing: if we weren’t tuned into George’s use of symbolism, metaphor, and wordplay, then this is about as far as we could take the theory.
Well. Fortunately you know that this isn’t where our theory ends, but rather where it begins. Fortunately, you know that Martin always leaves us clues via symbolism and wordplay, boy is that ever the case with the Old Ones.
The Old Gods
So, I ask again: did these stag men ever exist? Are the Green Men who guard the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces really the Old Ones from Leng?
Prepare to get shocked. This is the first scene in Winterfell in the entire series:
For her sake, Ned had built a small sept where she might sing to the seven faces of god, but the blood of the First Men still flowed in the veins of the Starks, and his own gods were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest.
OH MY GOD Ned prays to the Old Ones. They are the vanished gods of the greenwood – you’ll notice how this also plays into the Lovecraftian ideas of the Old Ones as gods vanished or hibernating gods who used to have dominion over the earth. What the northmen refer to as the Old Gods is really the hive mind made up of all the dead greenseers which inhabits the weirwood tree consciousness, and… these are the Old Ones? If the first greenseers were green men, this makes sense – the Old Gods are the greenseers, and the first greenseers might have been green men… who are really the Old Ones from Leng.
I ask you: is it more likely that George R. R. Martin, steeped in both Lovecraftian lore and Cernunnos lore as he is, accidentally used the phrase “the old ones” in the scene where he introduces us to the heart tree and the godswood, or is it more likely that he did it on purpose? At the very least, it seems he likes to draw upon the accumulated mystique of phrases like “the old ones”, “the deep ones,” “the horned lord,” etc, and I think he’s doing that and more.
Because… it ain’t just Ned praying to the Old Ones:
The gate is lost. Donal Noye had closed and chained it, but it was there for the taking, the iron bars glimmering red with reflected firelight, the cold black tunnel behind. No one had fallen back to defend it; the only safety was on top of the Wall, seven hundred feet up the crooked wooden stairs. “What gods do you pray to?” Jon asked Satin. “The Seven,” the boy from Oldtown said. “Pray, then,” Jon told him. “Pray to your new gods, and I’ll pray to my old ones.” It all turned here.
That was from ACOK, from the battle to defend Castle Black from the Magnar of Thenn and his wildling raiders. Satin will pray to the Seven, and Jon will pray to his Old Ones. Just like his father! The implication is the same as in the previous scene: the greenseers inside the weirwoodnet are the Old Ones – some of them, at least.
The notion of the Old Gods as stag men has been suggested to us from the start, simply by the fact that we are told Garth-like green men guard the Isle of Faces, an island dedicated to the growing of hundreds of weirwood trees. The idea that these green men would be able to tap into the power of the weirwood trees they guard… should surprise no one. Garth the Green himself was said to have planted three weirwood trees in the godswood of Highgarden, and Garth the Green is described in exactly the same way as the Green Men on the Isle of Faces, suggesting that links exist between green men with antler hats and weirwood trees.
Then there is the fascinating topic of the etymology of “weir,” a word used to describe a wooden sluice-gate or dam built over a flowing body of water. It’s often called a fishing weir, it can sometimes be used as a bridge, and most importantly, it’s also called a “fish garth.” Ergo, a weirwood could also be called a Garth-wood, and Martin plays off of this fishing weir / fishgarth idea when he tells us that
For men, time is a river. We are trapped in its flow, hurtling from past to present, always in the same direction. The lives of trees are different. They root and grow and die in one place, and that river does not move them. The oak is the acorn, the acorn is the oak. And the weirwood … a thousand human years are a moment to a weirwood, and through such gates you and I may gaze into the past.”
Time is the river, and the weirwoods are the weir, straddling the stream without being moved by it – it’s the exact definition of a weir. This is really clever writing because Martin is literally sketching us a picture of the weirwoods as a fishing weir while also using it as a metaphor for the eternal, outside-of-time status of the weirwoods. It leaves us with no doubt that George is aware of the fishing weir idea and is incorporating it into his trees of the same name.
I’d say we can conclude that he’s aware of the “fish garth” phrase too. Not only did Garth the Green plant those three weirwoods at Highgarden which are called “The Three Singers,” and not only are the words garth and weir interchangeable in some contexts – it turns out that the word “garth” can also refer to an enclosed central garden – like a godswood! That means that weirwoods are essentially Garth trees in Garth gardens, which is a classic example of George layering on variations of the same symbolic idea in one place so we will notice it and be impressed. Weirwoods are garth-trees that grow in garth-gardens, and here’s Garth the founder of house Gardener planting weirwoods in Highgarden Godswood. It’s like a Dr. Seuss rhyme!
So again we must ask – given all that, is it possible George is unaware of the meaning of the word garth and just accidentally named his Cernunnos god “Garth” and his sacred trees “weirwoods?” No, of course not. The master is at work here, and this is high level wordplay and a demonstration of George’s mastery of folklore. The fact that “Weir” is also the last name of Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, was icing on the cake; but likely not the reason he chose the name weirwood.
Here’s a more grisly example of George playing with the garth / weirwood associations, one which we looked at in Weirwood Compendium 3. I’m talking about those eyeless, decapitated heads of the three Night’s Watch Rangers Jon finds north of the Wall mounted on tall spears of ash wood. I called them grisly weirwood totems because carved, bloody eyes and bloody mouths are weirwood symbols, and weirwoods are symbolic ash trees because they draw so much from Yggdrasil, the great ash tree. So, they are ash tree with carved faces made of dead people – you get the idea. One of those rangers was named Garth Greyfeather, while the other two rangers were also given horned god / green man names (Black Jack Bulwer and Hairy Hal), so this whole scene seems like a clue about ‘Garth people’ or ‘horned folk’ you might say dying and going into the weirwood hive mind. Becoming weirwood trees, as the greenseers do. It also seems to have something to do with the green zombie theory, since these are sacrificed Night’s Watch rangers, and due to other symbolism that is off topic here.
So, let’s sum up and bring this back to the old ones:
- Garth and horned people are joined at the hip with weirwoods, the green men on the Isle of Faces guard weirwoods, the word weir is in some instances interchangeable with the word garth, and godswoods are George’s version of real gardens called garths.
- Garth the Green is Cernunnos combined with the Green Man, basically, and Cernunnos is “the great Old One.”
- As we saw in those first two “old ones” quotes, George might be implying the old gods – the beings that make up the hive mind of the greenseers we call the weirwoodnet – as “the old ones.”
You see how this begins to come together. If the first greenseers were green men such as we hear about on the Isle Faces, this all makes sense. It means that garth people – these tall stag men who are modeled after Cernunnos the Old One – were the first “Old Gods.” It kind of makes sense the last of these antlered folk might live on the magically warded, Avalon-like Isle of Faces, guarding the last surviving concentration of weirwoods south of the Wall.
You surely remember the first time we saw the “horned god” phrase in ASOIAF, which comes as Ned remembers young Robert Baratheon:
He saw the king as he had been in the flower of his youth, tall and handsome, his great antlered helm on his head, his warhammer in hand, sitting his horse like a horned god.
Perhaps more interesting is this similar quote about young Robert and his antlered helm:
Six and a half feet tall, he towered over lesser men, and when he donned his armor and the great antlered helmet of his House, he became a veritable giant. He’d had a giant’s strength too, his weapon of choice a spiked iron warhammer that Ned could scarcely lift.
So, giant, fearsome antlered folk… Since the Lengii are super duper tall, and by extension the Old Ones of their island as well, this quote aligning the horned god with a giant is tantalizing. Robert is by far our best living incarnation of the Garth / horned lord archetype, so it seems like Robert’s giant symbolism might actually be a clue about the green men. The green men would have to be tall if they are related to the Old Ones of Leng. Also, if they were short, it seems like the humans would have just considered them children of the forest. But instead they have this separate name – the Sacred Order of Green Men – and their description as having green skin and antlers matches the legend of Garth much more closely than it does the children. Thus, it is at least possible, if not probable, that the green men on the Isle of Faces are or were some actually other kind of tall, Cernunnos-like people… and Cernnunos is the Great Old One.
Heck, even those spears of ash wood upon which the heads of Garth and his fellow rangers were mounted were eight feet tall, so those were giant weirwood garth and horned lord totems.
If you think it’s just these two possible double-entendres with the phrase “Old Ones” or “Old One,” you haven’t listened to Mythical Astronomy very often. It’s a bit ridiculous, actually.
Old Ones at White Harbor
At the harvest feast at Winterfell early on in ACOK, Bran is seated in the oaken seat of his father and presides over the feast. Harvest feasts are prime horned lord territory – that’s when the horned god is sacrificed in most mythologies, as fall turns to winter. You may recall that about Garth the Green, TWOIAF says that
In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring.
And that is of course par for the green god course. In the Oak and Holly King setup, Bran is symbolic of the sacrificed Oak King here at the Harvest Festival, sitting in the oaken seat as he is, and of course his name “Bran” implies him as food and bread for the people, which is why the crows are always asking him for corn – he’s the corn king who feeds the people with his life, with the corn king being a modern name for the archetype that includes Cernunnos and the green man and all the rest of the sacrificed nature gods.
And in comes Wyman, talking of the Old Ones at White Harbor who seem to have a thing for stags:
“Why, no prince is ever late,” the Lord of White Harbor responded amiably. “Those who arrive before him have come early, that’s all.” Wyman Manderly had a great booming laugh. It was small wonder he could not sit a saddle; he looked as if he outweighed most horses. As windy as he was vast, he began by asking Winterfell to confirm the new customs officers he had appointed for White Harbor. The old ones had been holding back silver for King’s Landing rather than paying it over to the new King in the North. “King Robb needs his own coinage as well,” he declared, “and White Harbor is the very place to mint it.” He offered to take charge of the matter, as it please the king, and went from that to speak of how he had strengthened the port’s defenses, detailing the cost of every improvement.
In addition to a mint, Lord Manderly also proposed to build Robb a warfleet. “We have had no strength at sea for hundreds of years, since Brandon the Burner put the torch to his father’s ships. Grant me the gold and within the year I will float you sufficient galleys to take Dragonstone and King’s Landing both.” Bran’s interest pricked up at talk of warships. No one asked him, but he thought Lord Wyman’s notion a splendid one. In his mind’s eye he could see them already. He wondered if a cripple had ever commanded a warship.
So, the old ones customs officers were replaced by Wyman – he surely threw them in prison, perhaps in the wolf’s den if he was especially wroth. We’ll go to the Wolf’s Den in a moment, which is why I mention it, but notice that the Old Ones customs agents were holding back silver, and silver coins are stags. The green men rode stags, in some legends, and looked like stags in others, so this seems thematically on point.
Wyman then offers to build ships, which Bran can see in his mind’s eye – this seems a clear allusion to the metaphor of weirwoods as astral-projection ships for the mind to sail the universe with, an idea we’ve explored extensively in the Weirwood Compendium. The Grey King’s weirwood boat is the most obvious example of this symbolism, and sends the message the weirwoods are ships of a kind, ones the greenseer can use. Thus Bran can see the ships in his mind’s eye, and we are meant to think of Brandon the Shipwright Stark who sailed his fleet into the Sunset Sea and was never heard from again, an allusion to be lost in the “green sea” of the weirwoodnet.
Okay, so let’s go to White Harbor and look for Old Ones. Spoiler alert: they are here. As you may recall, the Wolf’s Den is the oldest part of White Harbor, being an old fortress made of black stone which houses White Harbor’s godswood, which of course has a very old weirwood. This is from Davos’s ADWD sojourn in the Wolf’s Den:
Aside from his keepers, Davos Seaworth had the Wolf’s Den to himself. He knew there were true dungeons down in the castle cellars—oubliettes and torture chambers and dank pits where huge black rats scrabbled in the darkness. His gaolers claimed all of them were unoccupied at present. “Only us here, Onion,” Ser Bartimus had told him. He was the chief gaoler, a cadaverous one-legged knight, with a scarred face and a blind eye. When Ser Bartimus was in his cups (and Ser Bartimus was in his cups most every day), he liked to boast of how he had saved Lord Wyman’s life at the Battle of the Trident. The Wolf’s Den was his reward. The rest of “us” consisted of a cook Davos never saw, six guardsmen in the ground-floor barracks, a pair of washerwomen, and the two turnkeys who looked after the prisoner. Therry was the young one, the son of one of the washerwomen, a boy of ten-and-four. The old one was Garth, huge and bald and taciturn, who wore the same greasy leather jerkin every day and always seemed to have a glower on his face. His years as a smuggler had given Davos Seaworth a sense of when a man was wrong, and Garth was wrong. The onion knight took care to hold his tongue in Garth’s presence.
Ok, wow, so the Old One here is actually called Garth. He’s huge too, so score another one for the notion of the green men being large horned folk. As I have noted before, there are a total of 12 people “staffing” the Wolf’s Den, with Davos as the +1 to make the last hero math that mimics the last hero and his twelve companions. The last hero math is a crucial part of the green zombies theory, so seeing it here with Garth the Old One makes a lot of sense. Another of this crew is the one-eyed Ser Bartimus, who seems an Odin call-out.
As Davos sits in this cell, it says that
The onion knight had not forgotten Wyman Manderly’s last words to him. Take this creature to the Wolf’s Den and cut off head and hands, the fat lord had commanded. I shall not be able to eat a bite until I see this smuggler’s head upon a spike, with an onion shoved between his lying teeth. Every night Davos went to sleep with those words in his head, and every morn he woke to them.
That’s a close match to Garth Greyfeather, Black Jack Bulwer, and Hairy Hall, whose severed heads were mounted on spears, and the severed hands give us the bloody hand weirwood leaf symbol. Wyman Manderly, who passes this sentence on Davos which would have been carried out by Garth the “wrong-smelling” jailer, is himself is a kind of Garth symbol, being huge and gluttonous and having a large family a she does. Most tellingly, he also calls himself a Knight of the Green Hand, which is an old order of knights originating in the Reach who are obviously inspired by Garth and the Green Men. Cernunnos and other horned gods can sometimes be wrathful and deadly, hence the executioner symbolism of Wyman and Garth the jailer, and of course you may recall that
A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest.
Having a closer look at this nasty Garth the jailer, we see that he brings Davos porridge every morning – whether or not the porridge is meant as a weirwood paste symbol, we can observe the classic fertility god role of Garth as one who feeds the people and blesses the people with abundant harvests. Pretty cool that Martin is juxtaposing both Garth ideas here, that of one who feeds others and one who sacrifices others.
The highlight of the scene is the story of Brandon Ice Eyes retaking the Wolf’s Den. and again we see clues that the Old Ones are the Old Gods of the weirwood:
“Then a long cruel winter fell,” said Ser Bartimus. “The White Knife froze hard, and even the firth was icing up. The winds came howling from the north and drove them slavers inside to huddle round their fires, and whilst they warmed themselves the new king come down on them. Brandon Stark this was, Edrick Snowbeard’s great-grandson, him that men called Ice Eyes. He took the Wolf’s Den back, stripped the slavers naked, and gave them to the slaves he’d found chained up in the dungeons. It’s said they hung their entrails in the branches of the heart tree, as an offering to the gods. The old gods, not these new ones from the south. Your Seven don’t know winter, and winter don’t know them.”
Davos could not argue with the truth of that. From what he had seen at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, he did not care to know winter either. “What gods do you keep?” he asked the one-legged knight.
“The old ones.” When Ser Bartimus grinned, he looked just like a skull. “Me and mine were here before the Manderlys. Like as not, my own forebears strung those entrails through the tree.”
“I never knew that northmen made blood sacrifice to their heart trees.”
“There’s much and more you southrons do not know about the north,” Ser Bartimus replied.
All in all, it’s a great little passage. We’ve gone into all the symbolism here before, with Brandon Ice Eyes and the frozen White Knife river as a symbol of an icy white sword and all that, but this time we are looking at that sentence staring us in the face and telling us that the Old Gods of the North are the Old Ones. Once again we see the theme of human sacrifice mentioned, in keeping with the Cernunnos theme. Add it to Garth the Old One and his constant threats to chop off Davos’s head, plus Wyman’s Knight of the Green Hand status, and we can see once again that Martin has piled the Green man symbolism up quite high here at White Harbor, alongside three uses of the “Old Ones” phrase.
Finally, and as we have noted previously, fish garths / fishing weirs are basically traps for fish, and weirwoods can be seen as traps for greenseers in that they physically pinion the body of the greenseers like a fish caught in a weir, and it may even go further than that. Thus it is notable to find a prison with a godswood and a jailer named Garth.
Odin Says Hello
From the one-legged Ser Bartimus, companion to the brutish Garth the Old One to a one-legged keeper of a well in Meereen, we are finding more Old Ones in ADWD. This is from a Tyrion chapter:
Midday had come and gone before he and Penny reached the well, where a scrawny one-legged slave was drawing water. He squinted at them suspiciously. “Nurse always comes for Yezzan’s water, with four men and a mule cart.” He dropped the bucket down the well once more. There was a soft splash. The one-legged man let the bucket fill, then began to draw it upward. His arms were sunburnt and peeling, scrawny to look at but all muscle.
“The mule died,” said Tyrion. “So did Nurse, poor man. And now Yezzan himself has mounted the pale mare, and six of his soldiers have the shits. May I have two pails full?”
“As you like.” That was the end of idle talk. Is that hoofbeats you hear?
The lie about the soldiers got old one-leg moving much more quickly. They started back, each of the dwarfs carrying two brim-full pails of sweet water and Ser Jorah with two pails in each hand.
The day was growing hotter, the air as thick and wet as damp wool, and the pails seemed to grow heavier with every step. A long walk on short legs. Water sloshed from his pails with every stride, splashing round his legs, whilst his bells played a marching song. Had I known it would come to this, Father, I might have let you live. Half a mile east, a dark plume of smoke was rising where a tent had been set afire. Burning last night’s dead. “This way,” Tyrion said, jerking his head to the right.
Old one leg, huh? It’s disguised a bit, but we know it’s meant as another Old Ones reference because this man is in charge of a well – think of the well of Mimir which Odin throws his eye into in order to drink from – and because he’s also hearing the hoofbeats of a horse which is not visible, the pale mare. That’s a reference to Odin riding his shamanic horses, Yggdrasil and Sleipnir, both of which are not actual horses but instead metaphors for astral projection. I’m going to get into that in Weirwood Compendium 9, but take my word for it for now. Odin is a horned god in his own right, and he is a shamanic god above all else, the god of magic. Since Martin has modeled Bloodraven on Odin and the weirwoods on Yggdrasil, it makes sense to see Martin calling out to Odin and the Old Ones at the same time. The idea of drinking from Odin’s well would translate into ASOIAF terms as eating the weirwood paste, and the point is that is the mind-expanding fire of the gods in an edible form. The idea of moon-onion being place in between the teeth of Davos’s decapitated head gets at the same idea, and so to with Garth bringing Davos porridge.
Finally, the last paragraph mentioned the rising smoke column which comes from a pyre of the dead. The flip side of the ash tree symbolism of Yggdrasil is that Martin can use a rising column of smoke and ash to simulate a weirwood, with that symbolism extending to the idea of the weirwood as burning trees and burning trees looking like mushroom clouds. I point this out simply to show continuity of theme here – it’s a bunch of greenseer and weirwood stuff, with some death sacrifice thrown in.
Now in Norse myth, Odin is known for wandering the land in disguise, with his tell being that whatever person or animal he is disguised as will have one eye. Martin gives a nod to this when Bloodraven, disguised as Maynard Plumm via a glamour, appears momentarily to Dunk as a shadowed, hooded shape with one eye, though the eye turns out to be his moonstone broach. Now check out the wandering Septon Meribald, who sleeps with the Old Ones:
Meribald was a septon without a sept, only one step up from a begging brother in the hierarchy of the Faith. There were hundreds like him, a ragged band whose humble task it was to trudge from one flyspeck of a village to the next, conducting holy services, performing marriages, and forgiving sins. Those he visited were expected to feed and shelter him, but most were as poor as he was, so Meribald could not linger in one place too long without causing hardship to his hosts. Kindly innkeeps would sometimes allow him to sleep in their kitchens or their stables, and there were septries and holdfasts and even a few castles where he knew he would be given hospitality. Where no such places were at hand, he slept beneath the trees or under hedges. “There are many fine hedges in the riverlands,” Meribald said. “The old ones are the best. There’s nothing beats a hundred- year- old hedge. Inside one of those a man can sleep as snug as at an inn, and with less fear of fleas.”
That’s pretty great, a wandering holy man who sleeps either “beneath trees” or under the old ones hedges who count their ages in centuries. Sounds like greenseer activity, right? Of course we have caught George using phrases like “beneath the trees” to imply greenseer activity before, and I am saving some tremendous stuff along those lines from the Hedge Knight (Dunk and Egg book 1) for the next couple of Weirwood Compendium episodes. The next paragraph gives a description of Meribald, check it out:
The septon could neither read nor write, as he cheerfully confessed along the road, but he knew a hundred different prayers and could recite long passages from The Seven- Pointed Star from memory, which was all that was required in the villages. He had a seamed, windburnt face, a shock of thick grey hair, wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Though a big man, six feet tall, he had a way of hunching forward as he walked that made him seem much shorter. His hands were large and leathery, with red knuckles and dirt beneath the nails, and he had the biggest feet that Brienne had ever seen, bare and black and hard as horn. “I have not worn a shoe in twenty years,” he told Brienne. “The first year, I had more blisters than I had toes, and my soles would bleed like pigs whenever I trod on a hard stone, but I prayed and the Cobbler Above turned my skin to leather.” (AFFC, Brienne)
Alright, so he’s a big man, and he’s both burned and shocked, which makes me think of the symbolic weirwood tree set ablaze by the Storm God’s thunderbolt, since that is such a central weirwood motif. The idea of his face being seamed implies cracks and crevices like the bark of a tree, perhaps. Taking a look at his hands, we see they are red, like the bloody hand weirwood leaves, and he has dirt under his fingernails, evoking the idea of weirwood leaves lying in the dirt. It reminds me of Jon observing the ground at the Weirwood Grove of Nine: “The forest floor was carpeted with fallen leaves, bloodred on top, black rot beneath.” And sure enough, when we look down at Meribald’s huge feet, we see the color black as well, as his feet are “bare and black and hard as horn.”
In other words, he’s both a good visual model of a weirwood tree and a horned lord to boot! No wonder he likes to sleep in the hedges of the Old Ones. All that about leather skin might be a nod to skinchanging as well, I should think. And then there’s this:
“Going barefoot was my penance. Even holy septons can be sinners, and my flesh was weak as weak could be. I was young and full of sap, and the girls … a septon can seem as gallant as a prince if he is the only man you know who has ever been more than a mile from your village. I would recite to them from The Seven-Pointed Star. The Maiden’s Book worked best. Oh, I was a wicked man, before I threw away my shoes. It shames me to think of all the maidens I deflowered.”
Oh ho, so he’s got sap inside him like a tree! He has the words of god inside him too, as he has committed much of the Seven-Pointed Star to memory, which makes us think of the weirwoods as a library for greenseers, a repository for the knowledge of the Old Gods. And look – young Meribald was more than a little Garth-like, wasn’t he, what with his deflowering countless maidens and his hedonism? So it wasn’t just the horny feet, he’s a horny guy all the way around. He also wanders the Riverlands handing out rare and valued oranges from a seemingly bottomless bag, another nod to Garth and Green Man lore. He carries a staff like Odin, and uses the “The Quiet Isle” as a kind of home base when he isn’t wandering the realm. The Quiet Isle is an island of holy men who have taken vows of silence, and this of course makes us think of the Isle of Faces, which Catleyn describes in that first AGOT godswood scene where George names the Old Gods of the weirwoods as the Old Ones:
In the south the last weirwoods had been cut down or burned out a thousand years ago, except on the Isle of Faces where the green men kept their silent watch.
Isle of Faces has green men keeping silent watch, the Quiet Isle has a kind of brotherhood of men who take vows of silence. Horny old Meribald has red hands, sap inside him, he’s shocked and windburnt and seamed, and he sleep in the tree-abode of the Old Ones. This seems a pretty good clue linking the Old Ones to the Isle of Faces.
You really have to like how all of these scenes with Old Ones quotes link back to each other in interesting ways, and how they all contain a lot of the same motifs. There was even a bit of green zombie talk in the Meribald chapter when he mentions that Dog has killed a dozen wolves – but he’s afraid of the giant wolf pack led by Nymeria, Arya’s direwolf.
Oh and the name Meribald – since “mer” means sea and the dark spots on the moon are called maria (the plural of mere), Meribald might translate to bald sea or better yet, bald moon. One thinks of Septon Moon from Fire and Blood, another dead-ringer for a Garth figure.
Speaking of Septons, let’s finish off this section with another Old Ones quote about Septons from a Cersei chapter of AFFC:
The draperies swayed back and forth in a wash of crimson silk. “Orton told me that the High Septon has no name,” Lady Taena said. “Can that be true? In Myr we all have names.”
“Oh, he had a name once . They all do.” The queen waved a hand dismissively. “Even septons born of noble blood go only by their given names once they have taken their vows. When one of them is elevated to High Septon, he puts aside that name as well. The Faith will tell you he no longer has any need of a man’s name, for he has become the avatar of the gods.”
“How do you distinguish one High Septon from another?”
“With difficulty. One has to say, ‘the fat one,’ or ‘the one before the fat one,’ or ‘the old one who died in his sleep.’ You can always winkle out their birth names if you like, but they take umbrage if you use them. It reminds them that they were born ordinary men, and they do not like that.”
“My lord husband tells me this new one was born with filth beneath his fingernails.”
So the High Septons have no names, huh? Because they are avatars of the gods? “and his own gods were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest.” The Old Gods are the combined and merged spirits of dead greenseers, and they are the Old Ones – and they are nameless. Here we have the nameless, godly High Septon, one of whom was “the old one who died in his sleep.” Was he sleeping beneath the old ones hedges like Meribald? Dying in your sleep sounds like a poetic way to talk about greenseers fading away into the green dream as they die, so the Old Ones may have indeed “died in their sleep.”
We also note that the “new one” High Septon (who is the “High Sparrow”) was born with dirt under his fingernails, very like Meribald, and it’s likely he has slept under a few hedges too – the old ones are the best, I’ve heard. I also have to mention that, for some odd reason, the High Septon carries a weirwood staff topped with a crystal orb. That’s an ice moon symbol on top of the cosmic axis tree, of course, but on a more basic level, it’s simply an Odin-like weirwood staff for the Old Ones Septons to carry as they die in their sleep under hedges and trees.
You all know I love the Great Empire of the Dawn theory. I think it’s the single most important piece of information in TWOIAF – all the collected clues about the GEOTD that is. It’s clear George has been developing the idea of pre-Valyrian dragon lords from Asshai since the very first book, as clues are all over Dany’s chapters in AGOT, but at some point he seems to have taken the idea beyond the nebulous “long vanished people from the shadow” and fleshed it out as the Great Empire of the Dawn. That’s what trips some people up about the GEOTD theory – it strikes some people as an absurdly large idea to hide in the last pages of a worldbook-type affair, though obviously TWOIAF is far beyond other such offerings from other authors in terms of detail and craftsmanship. This stumbling block is easily removed when you realize the Great Empire of the Dawn is simply the name for Asshai before the fall of the Long Night and the “Shadow” that hangs over Asshai.
As I mentioned, the idea of dragonlords from Asshai is spelled out from the beginning:
“Have you ever seen a dragon?” she asked as Irri scrubbed her back and Jhiqui sluiced sand from her hair. She had heard that the first dragons had come from the east, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai and the islands of the Jade Sea. Perhaps some were still living there, in realms strange and wild.
This is Dany’s third AGOT chapter, and she says it right out – dragons may have come from Asshai, before Valyria ever existed. In other words, the GEOTD info in TWOIAF is simply the answer to a question we should have been considering all along: who were these people from Asshai who tamed dragons before the Valyrians? If the idea of George putting the answer in TWOIAF is too much for someone, I don’t know what to tell them, really. Even before this Dany scene – which is also the scene where she hears the “dragons come from the moon” legend – we had Bran’s coma dream vision, where
He lifted his eyes and saw clear across the narrow sea, to the Free Cities and the green Dothraki sea and beyond, to Vaes Dothrak under its mountain, to the fabled lands of the Jade Sea, to Asshai by the Shadow, where dragons stirred beneath the sunrise.
Again, everyone should have always been looking for clues to build on this idea of dragons from Asshai. I imagine if Martin had kept his stated earlier plans to actually take Dany to Asshai, we would have gotten some of the info about the GEOTD in the main series already. As it is, the idea of Dany’s connection to these pre-Valyrian dragonlords seems to be something Martin was thinking about from the beginning, because of the gemstone emperors Dany sees in her penultimate “wake the dragon” dream:
Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade.
It’s always been obvious these are Dany’s ancient ancestors, but were they always intended to be the pre-Valyrian dragonlords from Asshai? It’s possible George was originally imagining Valyrians with other eye colors, and then later changed them to the gemstone emperors of the GEOTD later, but I think between the flaming swords (which the Valyrians are never recorded as possessing) and the fact only one has purple eyes, I’d lean towards Martin always having imagined these people as the dragonlords from Asshai that he refers to elsewhere in AGOT. Why else drop all these clues in the same book about people from Asshai taming dragons before the Valyrians did? TO be honest Asshai gets more development in AGOT than Valyria does.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
The glorious (and false) vision of the Undying of Qarth that Daenerys sees in ACOK is another clue about the Great Empire of the Dawn, I believe. I think this vision, which the Undying are projecting into Dany’s mind, seems to represent the Undying trying to pose as the ancient people of Asshai, as opposed to Valyrians:
Beyond the doors was a great hall and a splendor of wizards. Some wore sumptuous robes of ermine, ruby velvet, and cloth of gold. Others fancied elaborate armor studded with gemstones, or tall pointed hats speckled with stars. There were women among them, dressed in gowns of surpassing loveliness. Shafts of sunlight slanted through windows of stained glass, and the air was alive with the most beautiful music she had ever heard.
A kingly man in rich robes rose when he saw her, and smiled. “Daenerys of House Targaryen, be welcome. Come and share the food of forever. We are the Undying of Qarth.”
“Long have we awaited you,” said a woman beside him, clad in rose and silver. The breast she had left bare in the Qartheen fashion was as perfect as a breast could be.
“We knew you were to come to us,” the wizard king said. “A thousand years ago we knew, and have been waiting all this time. We sent the comet to show you the way.”
“We have knowledge to share with you,” said a warrior in shining emerald armor, “and magic weapons to arm you with. You have passed every trial. Now come and sit with us, and all your questions shall be answered.”
This vision of impossibly lovely and grand splendor of wizards, kings and queens is clearly meant to resonate with Dany, who has lost her home and is searching for her identity and any connections to her lineage and history. These star-speckled and gemstone-studded fine folk look nothing like Valyrians, and since this entire thing is an illusion, one imagines the Undying could have portrayed themselves as Valyrians if they wanted to. Instead, they went for something different – and to me the only logical answer is that they were showing Dany their best, idealized memory of the Great Empire of the Dawn. They know the speech of dragonkind, see Dany as a fulfillment of ancient prophecy, and they sent the comet – this has Azor Ahai and dragonlords written all over it! But again, they aren’t posing as Valyrians, and given the use of the words “kingly” and “gemstones,” I have to think of the kingly ghosts with gemstone eyes who wanted Dany to “wake the dragon.” Here the air is “alive with music,” and the last line of AGOT, after Daenerys wakes the dragons, is “and for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.”
Qaarth itself really seems like Martin’s first attempt at showing us the legacy of the ancient Asshai’i / the GEOTD. Qaarth claims to be the oldest city in the world, and though Asshai is probably older, Qaarth is built right on the edge of the former territory of the Great Empire, and would have commanded enormous strategic importance sitting astride the Jade Gates, then as now. They’ve even got a Tourmaline Brotherhood, which I always like to joke is a sect of devotees to the wisdom of the Tourmaline Emperor. Hard to say for sure, but the overall picture I am seeing is that Martin is leaving GEOTD breadcrumbs all around Qaarth. The idea that they all want Dany’s dragons in Qaarth lines up with the idea of Qaarth seeing themselves as the heirs to the ancient knowledge and magic of the Great Empire. More on this in a moment.
So, like I said… there are plenty of Great Empire of the Dawn breadcrumbs in the series proper, so really the GEOTD theory is not far-fetched or tinfoily in the slightest. And then in TWOIAF, in the section about Valyria, Martin straight up BEGS us to think about this question:
In Asshai, the tales are many and confused, but certain texts—all impossibly ancient—claim that dragons first came from the Shadow, a place where all of our learning fails us. These Asshai’i histories say that a people so ancient they had no name first tamed dragons in the Shadow and brought them to Valyria, teaching the Valyrians their arts before departing from the annals.
Yet if men in the Shadow had tamed dragons first, why did they not conquer as the Valyrians did?
Again, Martin is posing the question straight-out: if people had tamed dragons in Asshai, which oh-by-the-way is the largest city ever built in 10,000 years by several orders of magnitude, wouldn’t they have conquered a huge Empire like Valyria? The obvious answer is yes, and then in the same book George tells us about this gargantuan, advanced civilization of legend – his Atlantis or Mu, essentially – which very much fits the bill. This Great Empire existed right on Asshai’s doorstep, and oh-by-the-way, they built these things called the Five Forts out of fused black stone, which can only be made with dragonfire and sorcery as far as we know.
I also love the very logical angle that considers the size of Asshai. Such a metropolis can only have been built by a rich and powerful civilization, and the huge land walls which surround Asshai – which are now totally useless – speak to a time when the Shadowlands peninsula and Asshai were heavily populated and had to contend with rival nations and armies. The GEOTD and the missing advanced civilization that built Asshai are a perfect fit, and combines to tell a very sensible tale: the people who tamed dragons in Asshai before the Valyrians did indeed conquer a huge empire, and their pursuit of power and magic eventually lead to a great downfall. It is from this ancient past that Lightbringer and Azor Ahai come from, and this conclusion is harmonious with the gemstone emperor kingly ghosts holding swords of pale fire, and of dragonlords existing in the GEOTD.
The fall of the GEOTD flows seamlessly into the legend of Azor Ahai ending the Long Night, with the last emperor of the Great Empire, the Bloodstone Emperor, being blamed for causing the Long Night. It’s pretty clear to me that the fall of this Great Empire and of the Long Night must surely be the thing which left Asshai and the surrounding area poisoned, shadowed, and magically toxic, especially when we consider the Bloodstone Emperor was really into cuddling with his black meteorite and his very name, blood-stone, is interchangeable with “bleeding star,” a term used to describe a meteor or comet.
Thus we can see the basic timeline being suggested – the dragonlords of ancient Asshai did indeed build an empire, but no one remembers it very well because it was wiped out during the Long Night, and no one remembers anything very well from before the Long Night. However, some survivors of this Great Empire seem to have taken some of the magical knowledge with them when they fled or migrated to Valyria, including the knowledge of taming dragons, and thus we have those impossibly ancient histories in Asshai which speak of a people who first tamed dragons by the Shadow and then taught these arts to the first Valyrians – or more likely, they became the first Valyrians, judging from the silver-gold hair that all the gemstone emperors had in Dany’s dream. That dominant Valyrian look seems a direct legacy of the GEOTD.
Today we are going to take a new angle on providing evidence for the GEOTD as not only the builders of Asshai, and not only the ancestors of Valyria, but as the people who essentially shaped the modern world of Plaentos or Grrth or whatever you want to call it. They are the starting point for all knowable history, and their fingerprints can be found in nearly every corner of the modern world.
Obviously this begins with Valyria, as I just mentioned. Not only did the Great Empire pass along the art of taming dragons, we can also observe that the Valyrian’s fabled art of making castles, fortresses, roads, and bridges out of unbreakable fused black stone with dragonfire and sorcery was something they inherited from the ancestors of the GEOTD. As many have observed, the theoretical formula for making Valyrian steel – dragonfire and blood magic – seems to constitute the Valyrians’ attempt to recreate the forging of Lightbringer, and though they may not be able to create flaming swords, they did create unbreakable magic swords, ones which can probably kill the Others. It’s well possible the Great Empire knew how to make such swords, I think. If Dawn is not the original Ice, then it’s definitely from the GEOTD, and I can even think of a couple of ways that it could be both (though that’s a story for another day). We also know that Quaithe, a shadowbinder from Asshai, has mastered the use of the glass candle, which is thought of as a Valyrian invention, but may well be a legacy from the Great Empire in retrospect.
It’s possible, and even probable in my opinion, that Valyrian magic as a whole can essentially be seen as a fragment of the magic of the Great Empire.
We just discussed Qarth, and I think the evidence is pretty good that there is some kind of cultural link between the GEOTD and Qarth. It’s also notable that the Qartheen are described as tall and milk-pale, so it’s definitely possible these fair looks come from the same branch of GEOTD lineage as Valyria. The cultural links are more clear however, and it may be that the Qartheen inherited some of the magical and knowledge of the GEOTD more than anything else.
It should be noted that any empire as massive as the GEOTD would have been a multi-ethnic conglomerate state, and we see that in wake of their collapse, several different nation-states popped up within their official borders with varying ethnicity, from the people of Hyrkoon, Yi Ti, and Nefer to the nomadic Jogos Nhai and the island nation of Leng.
Today we are going to go beyond those nations and peoples, and beyond the Valyrians and Qarthine and the few dark sorcerers left huddling in the greasy black stone buildings of Asshai. We aren’t going to talk about the Daynes of Starfall, who are definitively, positively, 100% descended from the Great Empire, and who even look like Valyrians from time to time. We also aren’t going to discussed the single biggest piece of “smocking gun” evidence in the entire series, the fused black stone fortress that sits beneath the Hightower. No, what we are going to talk about is the clear fact that Sarnori and Dothraki, two horse-loving people who inhabited the same grasslands at different times, are also descended from the Great Empire of the Dawn.
When you read the story of the Great Empire of the Dawn in TWOIAF, you see that right after Azor Ahai and Lightbringer defeated the forces of darkness and returned love and light to the world or some such, the diaspora mega-bomb that is the Great Empire’s dissolution is spelled out:
Yet the Great Empire of the Dawn was not reborn, for the restored world was a broken place where every tribe of men went its own way, fearful of all the others, and war and lust and murder endured, even to our present day. Or so the men and women of the Further East believe.
An empire larger than any seen since, one which probably built Asshai, a city larger than any seen since, was broken apart in terror and madness during the Long Night, and when the Long Night ended, every tribe of man went their separate way. That wording is another clue that the GEOTD was a multi-ethnic nation state, one which contained many “tribes of man.” This spreading out in all directions form the Great Empire probably began as soon as the horrific reign of the Bloodstone Emperor did:
When the daughter of the Opal Emperor succeeded him as the Amethyst Empress, her envious younger brother cast her down and slew her, proclaiming himself the Bloodstone Emperor and beginning a reign of terror. He practiced dark arts, torture, and necromancy, enslaved his people, took a tiger-woman for his bride, feasted on human flesh, and cast down the true gods to worship a black stone that had fallen from the sky.
( . . . )
In the annals of the Further East, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night.
Sounds pretty bad, right? Sounds like the kind of thing that might make you want to migrate a bit, or even a lot. I have to say, as much as I like moon meteors, if the President of the United States ever started ‘worshipping’ a black meteorite I’d have a few concerns; and if he were to practice cannibalism and necromancy, I’d say that it is indeed finally time to “move to Canada,” which is what people in the Unites States say when they are really concerned with whatever the current president is doing. It would have been the same for the millions of people living under the yoke of the Great Empire – people might start saying things like “I’ve heard the weather in the Summer Sea is lovely this time of year,” or even “Sothoryos can’t be that bad, can it?” In fact the Rhoynar fleeing the Valyrians isn’t a bad parallel – if the wrath of the Bloodstone Emperor, a presumed dragonlord, turned on your particular tribe of man, as the wrath of evil tyrants always does… you’d basically do anything and go anywhere – even Sothoryos – to get away.
Turns out people didn’t have to sail to Sothoryos to get away, although maybe some did. Those brindled men have to come from somewhere. No, as it turns out, George has actually told us exactly where a great many of the enslaved peoples of the Great Empire fled to: they fled across the Bones Mountains.
East, beyond Vaes Dothrak and the Mother of Mountains, the grasslands give way to rolling plains and woods, and the earth beneath the traveler’s feet turns hard and stony and begins to climb upward, ever upward. The hills grow wilder and steeper, and soon enough the mountains appear in the far distance, their great peaks seeming to float against the eastern sky, blue-grey giants so huge and jagged and menacing that even Lomas Longstrider, that dauntless wanderer (if his tales be true), lost heart at the sight of them, believing that he had at last reached the ends of the earth.
The ancestors of the Dothraki and the other horse peoples of the grasslands knew better, for some remembered crossing those mountains from the lands that lay beyond. Did they come west in hopes of fairer fields and plenty or in search of conquest, or were they fleeing before some savage foe? Their tales do not agree, so we may never know, but of their travails we may be certain, for they left their bones behind to mark their passing. The bones of men, the bones of horses, the bones of giants and camels and oxen, of every sort of beast and bird and monster, all can be found amongst these savage peaks.
From them the mountains take their name: the Bones. Tallest of all the mountain ranges in the known world from the Sunset Sea to Asshaiby-the-Shadow, the Bones extend from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea, a wall of twisted rock and sharp stone stretching more than five hundred leagues from north to south and a hundred leagues from east to west.
The Bones Mountains are a natural land barrier – almost comically so. But there are so many bones littered in the passes through these mountains that the entire mountain range is named after them. This sounds like a mass migration, from east to west, and a desperate one at that – they brought all their animals with them, all their elderly and sick and young, everyone. No matter how many died, turning back was not an option, and so their animals and people and children perished along the way and were simply left behind or perhaps buried in quickly-fashioned stone cairns. This quote from TWOIAF even poses the question: were these people perhaps fleeing some savage foe? Well, yes, we know that during the reign of the Bloodstone Emperor, people going east would have had to cross the Bones, and we know that in the wake of his reign, the tribes of men went their own ways and scattered. Among all the history we are given for the east, it’s the obvious mechanism to trigger the kind of desperate mass migrations that the skeletal evidence points too.
This reminds me very much of the Wildling migration towards the Wall, which Jon observes in ACOK:
Their encampment had no plan to it; he saw no ditches, no sharpened stakes, no neat rows of horse lines. Everywhere crude earthen shelters and hide tents sprouted haphazardly, like a pox on the face of the earth. He spied untidy mounds of hay, smelled goats and sheep, horses and pigs, dogs in great profusion. Tendrils of dark smoke rose from a thousand cookfires. This is no army, no more than it is a town. This is a whole people come together.
The Wildlings were fleeing from the Others – an enemy so terrifying that the they felt their only choice was to throw themselves against a 700 foot ice wall in a basically hopeless attack. Later when Jon is among the Free Folk, he sees women and children as well as their livestock animals. The Wildlings fled with with every man, woman, child, horse, pig, goat and dog – everything they valued carried on their backs, everything else left behind, forgotten, and abandoned. That kind of wholesale migration, the kind where you don’t even stop for the sick or dying, makes sense when you are fleeing from an enemy as terrifying as the Others… or the Bloodstone Emperor.
So consider this line again, from the passage about all the bones in the Bones Mountains: “..the bones of horses, the bones of giants and camels and oxen, of every sort of beast and bird and monster.” That almost sounds like the animals are fleeing a natural cataclysm, like a forest fire that drives all the animals from the wood, only on a huge scale. We know of just such a cataclysm of course, wink wink snap snap grin grin know what I mean know what I mean?
There are three well established passes through the mountains, and they are all three controlled by the last remnants of the lost kingdom of Hyrkoon, which was inside the Great Empire and which gave us “Hyrkoon the Hero,” one of the five given names of Azor Ahai. In other words, these passes have probably been in use since the time of the Long Night and the Great Empire. Here’s the quote from TWOIAF about these passes:
“A thousand roads lead into the Bones,” wise men say from Qarth to Qohor, “but only three lead out.” As impassable as the Bones appear from afar, there are indeed hundreds of footpaths, goat tracks, game trails, streambeds, and slopes by which travelers, traders, and adventurers may find their way into the heart of the mountains. In certain places, ancient carved steps and hidden tunnels and passages exist for those who know how to find them. Yet many of these paths are treacherous, and others are dead ends or traps for the unwary.
Small parties, well armed and well provisioned, may make their way through the Bones by myriad ways when led by a guide who knows the dangers. Armies, trading caravans, and men alone, however, are well advised to stay to the main routes, the three great mountain passes that bridge the worlds of east and west: the Steel Road, the Stone Road, and the Sand Road.
The Steel Road (so named for all the battles it has seen) and the Stone Road both originate in Vaes Dothrak, the former running almost due east beneath the highest peaks, the latter curving southeast to join the old Silk Road at the ruins of Yinishar (called Vaes Jini by the horselords) before beginning its climb. Far south of these, the Sand Road passes through the southern Bones (sometimes called the Dry Bones, for water is scarce there) and surrounding deserts, connecting the great port city of Qarth with the market city Tiqui, the gateway to the east.
Well that’s interesting – two of the roads through the mountains lead to Vaes Dothrak itself, and to the Dothraki grasslands more generally, and the other leads right to Qarth. That’s more evidence of an ancient GEOTD / Qarth connection, and thus we can see that Qarth would have been a logical place for people fleeing the downfall of the Great Empire to go. It’s actually the closest road if you were from Asshai, the lands which are now Yi Ti, or anywhere else in the south of the empire. Much of the traffic fleeing the Great Empire would have gone through Qarth, either by land or say, simply because of geography.
Those other two passes though, they dump you out right on the great grass sea, and the established roads from these two passes run to Vaes Dothrak, the Mother of Mountains, and the sacred Womb of the World. This all fits together well – the Dothraki have ancient memories of coming over the bones from the east, as we read a moment ago; the hard evidence proves thousands of people did just that; and two of those mountain passes lead right to the lands the Dothraki now occupy. Although the Dothraki now rule the entire plain of the grasslands, this has only been true since the Doom of Valyria and the century of blood that followed.
Travelers name these the Haunted Lands for the many ruined cities that dot them, or the Great Desolation for their emptiness, but it is as the Dothraki sea that these grasslands are best known today. That usage is comparatively recent, however, for the Dothraki are a young race, and it was only since the Doom destroyed Valyria that their khalasars came to dominate these lands, sweeping out of the east with fire and steel to conquer and destroy the ancient cities that once thrived here and carrying off their peoples into bondage.
The important part is the “sweeping out of the east” part. Before they spread out and conquered the Kingdom of Sarnor – which we will talk about momentarily – the ancestors of the modern Dothraki existed basically in the steppes of the Bones Mountains, most likely east of the Womb of the World. That’s where nomadic horse tribes tend to live anyway, on steppe land, so that all makes sense. Elsewhere in this same “Grasslands” section of TWOIAF it speaks of the Sarnori leading “many a foray against the bands of nomadic horseman who roamed the steppes to their east” throughout their history, just to drive the point home. The picture that emerges is that ancestors of the Dothraki seem to have crossed the Bones in the north and basically settled in the natural habitat they found there. They remained bottled up in the east by the Kingdom of Sarnor and the presence of Valyria for centuries and millennia, until they weren’t, and then they swept westward. This next bit is the beginning of the Dothraki’s encroachment on Sarnor following the Doom:
Contemptuous of the horselords, who had been no more than a nuisance to them for centuries, the Tall Men ignored the threat from the east for far too long, even as the khalasars began to raid across their eastern marches.
The Tall Men are the Sarnori, and their great kingdom or federation of kingdoms existed for several thousand years, essentially concurrent with Valyria. In the shadow of this great civilization existed the horselords of the Dothraki, which had been no more than a nuisance to the Sarnori up until the Century of Blood. They essentially prevented the Dothraki from spreading east, and this gives us the entire history of the Dothraki, more or less: their ancestors crossed the Bones in the distant past, they settled on the steppe land just on the other side of the mountain range, and then when the giant post-Valyrian power vacuum opened up, they moved west and destroyed the Kingdoms of Sarnor, making them the rulers of the entire grass sea that they are now.
We can also observe the Dothraki threat to the Sarnori seems to have built up gradually before finally overwhelming them, so we can probably infer that the destabilization of the fall of Valyria just sort of ‘happened to coincide’ with the growth of the Dothraki’s populace, power, and ambition. George even wrote a Ghengis Khan-like figure into the history, Khal Mengo, who was the first Khal to “unite the clans,” as they say, turning fractious horse tribes into one unified and terrible fighting force, and Ghengis Khan did with the Mongols.
We are going to come back to the Sarnori and the discussion of dispersal patterns following the collapse of the GEOTD, but before we move on from the Dothraki, let’s take a look at their cultural and religious beliefs of the Dothraki which show evidence of a GEOTD heritage. The main such link is an astronomy-based religion. The first God-Emperor of the Great Empire of the Dawn was said to descend from heaven a the beginning of his life and to ascend to heaven at the end, and the last God-Emperor was the Bloodstone Emperor, who worshiped a fallen star and founded the Church of Starry Wisdom, which is an actual astronomy-based religion that still exists in the current day of the story. If a comet was the root cause of the Long Night as I have proposed, then the Bloodstone Emperor may have either timed his dark deeds of blood magic which are remembered as having caused the Long Night to the comet’s arrival, or he may have even summoned it somehow through dark magic.
The official religion of the Great Empire seems to have been worship of the Maiden Made of Light and the Lion of Night, who were thought of as being in harmony before the Long Night when the Maiden Made of Light turned her back on the world and the Lion of Night came out to punish the wickedness of man. That’s the clue about the Maiden being the bright face of the sun, which is the exact thing that is elsewhere said to “turn its back on the world” during the Long Night. The Lion of Night I have interpreted as the more esoteric idea of a dark sun, for various reasons including the fact that the lion is the classic animal to depict the sun, and so a “lion of night” would be a dark sun or night sun. I’ve talked more about that elsewhere, and it has roots in a few real-world mythologies as well. More simply, we might say that the Lion of Night represents the night sky. Before the Long Night, day and night would have been in balance, as the Maiden and Lion of Night were said to be. During the Long Night. darkness reigns, and the sun is turned dark. Point being, it’s essentially a solar religion, and the Maiden Made of Light at least is surely based on the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu.
We know a lot more about the Dothraki religion, and it is heavy on astronomy. They believe that the sun and moon are man and wife, for starters, and gods as well:
The two Dothraki girls giggled and laughed. “You are foolish strawhead slave,” Irri said. “Moon is no egg. Moon is god, woman wife of sun. It is known.”
“It is known,” Jhiqui agreed.
We also know that Dany calls Drogo “my sun and stars,” while he calls her “moon of my life.” This probably reflects a natural association between the Khal and the sun in Dothraki culture, just as kings wear golden crowns to signify the favor of whatever sun god their culture worships. Sun gods aren’t exactly rare, but it’s worth noting that both the Dothraki and the GEOTD regard the sun as a god.
More important are the Dothraki beliefs concerning stars. This is from a Daenerys chapter of AGOT:
The Dothraki believed the stars were horses made of fire, a great herd that galloped across the sky by night.
Even in Westeros, the maesters know of this believe, and this is from a Theon chapter of ACOK:
The crows came in the blue dusk, with the evening stars. “The Dothraki believe the stars are spirits of the valiant dead,” Theon said. Maester Luwin had told him that, a long time ago.
This fiery horde, made up of their ancestors, and the Mother of Mountains with its black lake, the ‘womb of the world,’ are the two holiest things in the Dothraki religion. Drogo swears by them when he vows to retake the Seven Kingdoms for Daenerys:
This I swear before the Mother of Mountains, as the stars look down in witness.” – AGOT, Daenerys
There’s a lot of talk about the Dothraki doing things out in the open so the stars can bear witness – those are their ancestors, after all. This has to remind us of how the first Emperor of the Great Empire, the God-On-Earth, was thought to ascend to to the stars at the end of his reign:
For ten thousand years the Great Empire of the Dawn flourished in peace and plenty under the Godon-Earth, until at last he ascended to the stars to join his forebears.
When you think back to Drogo’s funeral pyre from which the dragons hatched, Dany does indeed perceive Drogo ascending to the stars. In fact let’s take a look at the Dothraki funeral ceremony, as it’s really poetic and beautiful as well as being interesting. These quotes are pulled from the same chapter, in the order they appear, but with the parts that don’t pertain to our discussion cut out:
They took the two straightest trees, hacked the limbs and branches from them, skinned off their bark, and split them, laying the logs in a square. Its center they filled with straw, brush, bark shavings, and bundles of dry grass. Rakharo chose a stallion from the small herd that remained to them; he was not the equal of Khal Drogo’s red, but few horses were. In the center of the square, Aggo fed him a withered apple and dropped him in an instant with an axe blow between the eyes.
Over the carcass of the horse, they built a platform of hewn logs; trunks of smaller trees and limbs from the greater, and the thickest straightest branches they could find. They laid the wood east to west, from sunrise to sunset.
The third level of the platform was woven of branches no thicker than a finger, and covered with dry leaves and twigs. They laid them north to south, from ice to fire, and piled them high with soft cushions and sleeping silks.
This is one of the only places where the phrase “ice and fire” is used in some form – the only other ones I can recall are the oath Jojen and Meera swear to Bran, and Rhaegar’s comments about his son having a song of ice and fire, so that seems significant. This is a very old concept, and a deeply magical one. The pyre is aligned to the cardinal directions, the afore-mentioned ice and fire for north and south, and sunrise and sunset for east and west. This is a staple concept of pagan / hermetic magical traditions, and is an intrinsically astronomical concept.
After preparing Drogo’s body by washing, braiding, scented oils, etc, his body is placed on the pyre, and Dany spells out the specifics of the Dothraki belief here:
When a horselord dies, his horse is slain with him, so he might ride proud into the night lands. The bodies are burned beneath the open sky, and the khal rises on his fiery steed to take his place among the stars. The more fiercely the man burned in life, the brighter his star will shine in the darkness.
George is also giving us some symbolic clues here to associate the Dothraki flaming steeds in the sky and dragons, as Drogo’s fiery steed turns out to be the red comet, the dragon’s tail. There’s actually another whole layer to this concept, as the dragons themselves may contain the souls of dead dragonlords, as J Stargaryen of Westeros.org has discovered by decoding the puzzle of the Valyrian-looking lemurs of the Norvoshi forests. At the very least, we can look at these beliefs about the stars and ascending to the stars and see that it could work very well as a remnant of the beliefs of the Great Empire which the ancestors of the Dothraki brought with them over the Bones Mountains.
As for which lineage of the Great Empire the Dothraki descend from, well that’s obvious: the Onyx Emperor. The gemstones of the emperors correlate to eye color, at least in Dany’s wake the dragon dream, and the very first time Dany sees Drogo, in her very first chapter, we get this:
Khal Drogo has never lost a fight. He is Aegon the Dragonlord come again, and you will be his queen.” Dany looked at Khal Drogo. His face was hard and cruel, his eyes as cold and dark as onyx.
In this scene, Dany was comparing the cruelty of Viserys to Drogo’s looks, while Illyrio calls him a reborn dragonlord. Interesting that the onyx eyes which could be reference to the dragonlords of the Great Empire comes side-by-side with the suggestion of Drogo as a reborn dragonlord! Later, when Drogo’s own cruelty is turned against Viserys, we get another Drogo’s-eyes-as-onyx reference:
Even now Viserys did not understand. “No,” he shouted, “you cannot touch me, I am the dragon, the dragon , and I will be crowned! ” Khal Drogo unfastened his belt. The medallions were pure gold, massive and ornate, each one as large as a man’s hand. He shouted a command. Cook slaves pulled a heavy iron stew pot from the firepit, dumped the stew onto the ground, and returned the pot to the flames. Drogo tossed in the belt and watched without expression as the medallions turned red and began to lose their shape. She could see fires dancing in the onyx of his eyes.
As a nod to the astronomy side of things, note the comparison of Drogo to Aegon the Dragonlord in the first scene and the description of his onyx eyes containing dancing fire as he prepared to kill the “dragon” Viserys. (“Viserys is less than the shadow of a snake.”) Both ideas are consistent with the idea of Drogo playing the role of sun to Daenerys’s moon, and between Drogo’s star being the red comet, which is like a dragon, Drogo giving his name to a huge black dragon, Drogon, and this comparison between Drogo and Aegon Targaryen, you have to wonder if George wasn’t already thinking about the Dothraki having an ancient connection to the far east.
To be honest I wouldn’t bet my life on it – he very easily could have “retconned” that idea in TWOIAF, with George including an Onyx Emperor in the list of GEOTD emperors to create this tie to the Dothraki. Certainly when he wrote TWOIAF, he was thinking this was, as evidenced by the quote about the Dothraki having a memory of crossing the Bones Mountains. That’s what’s important, really; it’s fun to try to figure when George had which idea, since we know he is a gardener style writer, but at the end of the day whatever he decides is true has always been true, and thus we have my theory here that the Dothraki are implied as having fled the GEOTD.
Additional corroboration of the Dothraki having an origin east of the Bones mountains can be found in the similarities between their culture and that of the Jhogos Nhai, the horse riders of the far eastern plains, whose lands lie squarely inside the old borders of the Great Empire of the Dawn.
The Jogos Nhai
The Jogos Nhai have a culture which parallels that of the Dothraki in many ways, but with several key differences. Logic would dictate that the Dothraki culture has branched off from the original “horse lord” culture, since they came over the mountains from the lands which the Jogos Nhai still inhabit, so we will generally interpret the culture of the Jogos Nhai to be closer to that of their common ancestor. It seems like they only have xorses east of the Bones, which is what he Jogos Nhai ride, so we can assume that the Dothraki ancestors adapted their zorse-riding skills to the larger horses they found on the other side of the mountain.
Unlike the Dothraki, whose khals lead huge khalasars across the grasslands, the Jogos Nhai travel in small bands, closely connected by blood. Each band is led by a jhat, or war chief, and a moonsinger, who combines the roles of priestess, healer, and judge. The jhat leads in war and battle and raid, whilst the other matters are ruled by the band’s moonsinger.
Dothraki khals make endless war on one another once beyond the sacred precincts of Vaes Dothrak, their holy city. But the gods of the Jogos Nhai forbid them to shed the blood of their own people (young men do ride out to steal goats, dogs, and zorses from the other bands, whilst their sisters go forth to abduct husbands, but these are rituals hallowed by the gods of the plains, during which no blood may be shed). Instead, the Jogos Nhai make endless war upon everyone else, from the Golden Empire of Yi Ti to the former Patrimony of Hyrkoon to the vanquished stone giants of the northern Bones Mountains, the Jhogwin, and also the N’gai, a people who have been reduced to one foggy underground city (Nefer).
Although the Dothraki khalasars are much larger than the bands of the Jogos Nhai, they are united by an oath of brotherhood between a khal and his bloodriders, which can be seen as a kind of ritual adoption. The ancient horse riders fleeing over the mountains would likely have been fragments of decimated kin groups, so it makes sense that they might have adopted each other via blood oath as a way of uniting to survive in a new land. (Major hat-tip to BrainFireBob of Westeros.org).
The Jogos Nhai taboo against killing other Jogos Nhai seems to have broken down during the course of the Dothraki’s migration and establishment of their new culture, but we do see an echo of this tradition in the Dothraki taboo against making war on each other within sight of the Mother of Mountains or shedding blood of any kind in Vaes Dothrak.
Both of our nomadic horse-warrior cultures seem to eschew the notion of inherited right to rule. The Dothraki khals are always the mightiest warriors, and if they become severely injured or weak, they lose their legitimacy and authority:
“Khaleesi,” Jhiqui said, “he fell from his horse.”
Trembling, her eyes full of sudden tears, Dany turned away from them. He fell from his horse! It was so, she had seen it, and the bloodriders, and no doubt her handmaids and the men of her khas as well. And how many more? They could not keep it secret, and Dany knew what that meant. A khal who could not ride could not rule, and Drogo had fallen from his horse.
“A khal who cannot ride is no khal,” said Jhogo. “The Dothraki follow only the strong,” Ser Jorah said.
And then a moment later:
“They took Khal Drogo’s herds, Khaleesi,” Rakharo said. “We were too few to stop them. It is the right of the strong to take from the weak. They took many slaves as well, the khal’s and yours, yet they left some few.” (AGOT, Daenerys)
We don’t get the details of how the moonsingers and jhats are chosen, but the Jogos Nhai do occasionally raise up a jhattar, a warleader or “jhat of jhats,” which seem to be a matter of choosing and not family legacy. We are told that when facing extinction at the hands of Lo Bu, the forty-third Scarlett Emperor of Yi Ti, one thousand rival clans gathered together and chose a female warrior named Zhea Zorseface as jhattar (which turned out to be a great decision).
This is probably a good place to briefly note the general badassery of the Jogos Nhai. Not only did Zia Zorseface string out Lo Bu’s thirteen armies, isolating and destroying each in turn before killing Lo Bu himself, gilding his skull, and making a drinking cup out it; but we also hear of Garak Squint-Eye, who slew the last of the Jhogwin, the stone giants of the Bones mountains. It’s hard to say who or what those “stone giants” really were, but they don’t sound like easy prey. The Jogos Nhai also whupped up on Hyrkoon for many centuries and likely had something to do with their downfall.
It seems likely that the tight familial bonds of the Jogos Nhai and their extreme hostility to outsiders arose as a survival mechanism during the anarchy of the Long Night and the difficult living conditions that would have persisted long afterwards. As the horse riding culture that did not flee the Bloodstone Emperor holocaust, they would have had to become tough as nails to survive – and I think that’s a fine description of the Jogos Nhai, “tough as nails.”
Physically, the Jogos Nhai are much shorter than the Dothraki, with skin that tends more to yellow than the bronze of the Dothraki. This does beg the question of where the height of the Dothraki came in – were they always a taller cousin to the ancient Jogos Nhai, even when they were both part of the GEotD, or did they gain their height though intermarriage with the ancient people of the grasslands after crossing the mountains? We are about to get to the Sarnori, who are tall like the Dothraki (only more so) and have the same skin and hair and eye coloring as the Dothraki, so there is potential for the “tall genes” to have entered the Dothraki gene pool after they had crossed the mountains.
The Dothraki reverence for the Mother of Mountains and the womb of the world is certainly lunar in nature; mountains, whose peaks float in the sky like moons, and lakes, whose surfaces shine like the moon, are specifically used as metaphors for moons throughout the series. The Silver Sea is a definite lunar symbol, and the Womb of the World bears the same symbolism. Most importantly, we know the Dothraki view the moon itself as a goddess and the wife of the sun. The Jogos Nhai, on the other hand, have an extreme reverence for their moonsingers, who basically govern all aspects of life that don’t have to do with war. Although Dothraki khals are always male, the crones of the Dosh Khaleen have absolute authority and are obeyed without question inside of Vaes Dothrak, which sits at the foot of the Mother of Mountains by the Womb of the World. This seems like an echo of the power held by the moonsingers, and we have to notice that twice now, we see the Dothraki revert to practices much closer to those of the Jogos Nhai – they don’t make war upon one another, and they place the power in the hands of the women.
As I said above, the warleaders of the Jogos Nhai, the jhats, were usually male, but the moonsingers governed all other aspects of society. In a strange inversion of wildlings culture, the women of the Jogos Nhai even kidnap their husbands! In other words, women, and specifically the moonsingers, were generally more powerful than men in daily life. Thus we see that the Jogos Nhai are much closer to a matriarchal society than their taller horse-rider cousins to the west, which fits with the general theme of society moving towards patriarchy after the Long Night. Jogos Nhai also have somewhat flexible gender roles (not something patriarchy is really known for), as it is acceptable in their society for a woman to choose to be a warrior or a man to choose to be a moonsinger, though a woman choosing the life of a warrior must dress and live as a man, and vise versa.
Mirri Maz Dur met a moonsinger in Asshai while she was studying magic there:
When I was younger and more fair, I went in caravan to Asshai by the Shadow, to learn from their mages. Ships from many lands come to Asshai, so I lingered long to study the healing ways of distant peoples. A moonsinger of the Jogos Nhai gifted me with her birthing songs…”
There’s a nice bit of symmetry here as Daenerys herself represents the moon (and indeed Drogo calls her “moon of my life” a couple of lines after this quote, just to remind us). Not only is the moon strongly associated with the femininity in cultures all around the world, in ASOAIF we have the specific theme of sacrifice and childbirth-death running all throughout the series. This pattern began with the fire moon’s death in childbirth, which Daenerys represents, as she was ritually (un)burnt to hatch dragons into the world just as the fire moon was. Thus, it makes perfect sense for the “moonsingers” to know the best birthing songs.
The moonsingers of the Jogos Nhai are also demonstrating the important ASOIAF theme of everything having its song. The Church of Starry Wisdom sings to the stars, and Melisandre and the R’hllorists do a lot of singing at their nightfires. Of course the real name of the children of the forest is “those who sing the songs of earth.” Songs in this sense are a form of worship and communion, so it’s safe to say that there’s a deep reverence for the moon in the culture of Jogos Nhai. Given that they lived inside the GEotD, they may well have a moon-destruction legend similar to the Qarthine “origin of dragons” story. Their reverence for the moon may have something to do with a sense of gratitude for the moon we have left, a memorial for the one which we lost, or perhaps the joy that was felt the first time the clouds cleared enough to see the remaining moon again. We’ve broken down all the symbolism of the Temple of the Moonsingers in Braavos before, and it’s all cold white marble, milkglass, and other ice moon imagery. That’s a fun bit but it’s off topic here, so I won’t go into all of that. It’s in the Moons of Ice and Fire series if you are curious.
One last note: there is a Dothraki, one of Drogo’s bloodriders, named Jhogo, which is one letter away from Jogo, as in Jogos Nhai.
The Jogos Nhai are fun, but aren’t our main topic here. To fill out the story of the Dothraki, we actually have to delve into the lost Kingdoms of Sarnor, and that’s going to be a lot of fun.
The kingdoms of the Sarnori and the Rhoynar probably tie for the title of most beautiful and advanced civilization since the Long Night. These are the places you would want to live if you had to live on Planetos. Tragically, the Dothraki destroyed the former and the Valyrians the latter. Knowing as we do that many people seem to have fled westward over the Bones mountains and into the grasslands, we certainly have to take a look at the first and greatest post-Long Night empire of the grasslands, the Kingdom of Sarnor.
The people of the grasslands from which Sarnor arose seem to represent their own disapora, independent of the Great Empire of the Dawn, it must be said. However, some remnants of GEotD culture seem to have come over the mountain with the ancestors of the Dothraki and other fugitives, and the same may be true of the ancestors of the Sarnori. There’s also a nice little tip-off to look for GEotD fingerprints in the Kingdom of Sarnor:
Their gleaming cities were strewn across the grasslands like jewels across a green velvet mantle, shining beneath the light of sun and stars. (TWOIAF)
Jewels across a green mantle calls to mind the gemstone emperors of the GEotD and the jade and green pearls which they wore. “Shining beneath the light of sun and stars” certainly calls to mind a civilization with a connection to astronomy, and taken together with the cities being compared to gleaming jewels, it calls to mind the gemstone eyes of the GEotD emperors. It could of course have no double meaning (the wyrms of doubt are ever churning), but it is an interesting choice of words, and taken with the idea that refugees from the east passed through the grasslands, there’s enough to make us take a look here and see what we find.
On top of all that, it must be said – the Sarnori are just really cool and interesting. Many amazing things and places are briefly alluded to: The Palace With a Thousand Rooms where the High King dwelt, Sathar the Waterfall City, Sallosh the City of Schollars with its vast library and painted walls, Sarnath of the Tall Towers, Mardosh the Unconquerable (not so unconquerable, as it turns out). They were ”warriors, sorcerers, and scholars,” which is a match for our general perception of Great Empire of the Dawn rulers as embracing the use of magic and the pursuit of (starry) wisdom and knowledge.
The Sarnori themselves are heirs to an older legacy which traces back to the Dawn Age: the Kingdom of the Fisher Queens, who ruled the lands adjoining the now-vanished Silver Sea. The maesters of The World of Ice and Fire, in somewhat contradictory fashion, name several places as the site of the first “civilization as we know it:” Ghis, Yi Ti, the grasslands of the river Sarne, the first cities of the Rhoynar, and of course Asshai. That indicates they probably don’t know for sure; the only thing we can safely infer from this is that all of these civilizations are among the first to arise after the global disaster of the Long Night. Here is maester Yandel’s introduction to the grasslands of the river Sarne:
It was here amidst these grasses that civilization was born in the Dawn age. Ten thousand years ago or more, when Westeros was yet a howling wilderness inhabited only by the giants and the children of the forest, the first true towns arose beside the banks of the river Sarne and beside the myriad vassal streams that fed her on her meandering course Northward to the Shivering Sea.
The histories of those days are lost to us, sad to say, for the kingdoms of the grass came and went in large measure before the race of man became literate. Only the legends persist. From such we know of the Fishers Queens, who ruled the lands adjoining the Silver Sea – the great inland sea at the heart of the grasslands – from a floating palace that made its way endlessly around its shores.
The Fisher Queens were wise and benevolent and favored of the gods, we are told, and the kings and lords and wise men sought the floating palace for their counsel. Beyond their domains, however, other peoples rose and fell and fought, struggling for a place in the sun. Some maesters believe that the First Men originated here before beginning the long westward migration that took them across the arm of Dorne to Westeros. The Andals, too, may have arisen in the fertile fields south of the Silver Sea.
At some point, the mythical-sounding kingdom of the Fisher Queens came to an end, and the Silver Sea was reduced to three large lakes. I would certainly place my money on this decline occurring or at least beginning with the Long Night disaster. The realm of the Fisher Queens certainly sound like a Dawn Age kingdom, with their matriarchal society, wise and just reputation, favor of the gods, etc. The symbolism of the Silver Sea ruled by a matriarch is strongly evocative of moon imagery, and the Silver Sea itself fits the pattern of one moon breaking apart into three things which see from time to time (think of Dany’s three dragons to represent the moon meteor shower).
It should be noted that the Dothraki womb of the world seems to be a remnant of the Silver Sea – a look at the map shows two large lakes closer to the Sarne, and the only possible third lake is the womb of the world… which means that the Silver Sea would have been truly, truly massive! Like, really, really massive – look at the map! This is pretty important, I think, because it seems George has taken effort to obscure this information, never telling us outright that the WotW was part of the Silver Sea, instead leaving it for us to make the connection. Crowfood’s Daughter of the Disputer Lands has recently done a terrific video on this topic.
This is also a continuation of the moon imagery, from the Silver Sea to the Womb of the World and Mother of Mountains. When we consider the Dothraki tale of the First Man emerging from the Womb of the World, we have to wonder whether this story came down from the Fisher Queens themselves in some form and originally referred to the Silver Sea as a whole, and was later transferred to the Womb of the World. Obviously the story of an origin over the mountains is entirely incompatible with the ‘first human emerging from the Womb of the World’ story, so the Dothraki may have adopted the second one after crossing the mountains and mingling with the survivors of the Silver Sea kingdoms.
Following hte fall of the Fisher Queens, the three principal surviving groups – the Cymmeri, the Zoqora, and the Gipps – were conquered and assimilated by a group who came to be called the Sarnori. They called themselves the Tagaez Fen, the “tall men.” The legendary founder of Sarnor, the man who “took to wife a daughter of the greatest lords and kings” from each of these three peoples to unite them and bind them to his will, was named “Huzhor Amai, The Amazing,” supposedly born of the last of the Fisher Queens. In a brief shout-out to Arthurian legend, I’ll just briefly mention that the concept of a “Fisher King” is that of a keeper of the holy grail, which is a metaphor for the bloodline of Christ, who was of course known as the “fisher of men.” This seems similar to the idea of Huzhor Amai as the guardian of the bloodline of the Fisher Queens.
I probably don’t have to point out the phonetic similarity between “Huzhor Amai” and “Azor Ahai,” because wow, are they similar.
It’s tempting to think that Huzhor Amai, last of the Fisher Queens, could be a garbled memory of a legendary ancestral hero named Azor Ahai. Even though I believe Azor Ahai was originally a bad dude, at some point he obviously became remembered as the hero, so this may be possible. However, all the other flaming sword heroes come from the other side of the Bones mountains, and nothing else about the Huzhor Amai story sounds like Azor Ahai or the Bloodstone Emperor (no flaming sword, no black stone, no dark magic, no usurpation or wife-murder, etc.).
I think it is more probable that the Sarnori language is phonetically similar to that of the Great Empire of the Dawn because some part of the Sarnori language originated there. The last hero of the Sarnori during their downfall at the hands of the Dothraki was named Mazor Alexi, another name bearing resemblance to Azor Ahai, but clearly, Mazor Alexi lived only four hundred years ago and is definitely not another name for Azor Ahai. I believe this lends credence to the idea of common phonetic roots between Sarnor and the Great Empire. The names ‘Azor Ahai’ and ‘Huzhor Amai’ are perhaps both derived from or named after an older hero, some ancient figure of GEotD lore, or else Huzhor’s name is recalling that of Azor himself. If the ancestors of the Sarnori did indeed migrate from the Far East to the grasslands, they may have carried a version of this name with them.
Alternately, it’s possible one or more of the people assimilated into the Sarnori culture was the descendant of the GEotD, and they brought this name or their language with them to the area, later to be adopted by their Sarnori conquerors.
It is ambiguous as to whether the “Sarnori” were living in the former Silver Sea area before their assimilation of the surrounding peoples or whether they migrated there and conquered. The Silver Sea Kingdom of Fisher Queens is almost certainly a pre-Long Night culture, but the the actual “Kingdom of Sarnor” arose approximately concurrent with Ghis and Valyria, the first empires to arise after mankind rose out of the darkness of post-Long Night Planetos. We know the Sarnori fought in the wars between Valyria and Ghis, the last of which was five thousand years ago (according to Daenerys’s memory – this is the only source for this), dating the rise of Sarnor to at least that long ago. Thus the timing of the conquest of the native peoples by the Sarnori does potentially line up with an exodus from GEotD territory. They claim a descent from the line of the Fisher Queens, but this could easily be another case of a conquering ruler “donning his floppy ears” to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the populace. This is a well-known historical phenomena which George succinctly sums up with his clever “floppy ears” saying, and one which he reproduces in his world countless times.
Concerning the peoples who were united by the Amazing One himself, Huzhor Amai, a couple of things seem relevant here. The Cymmeri were supposedly “the first people to work iron,” although the Rhoynar also claim this title. Azor Ahai was seemingly a smith, as he “heated, hammered, and folded” the steel of Lightbringer the sword, which implies the GEotD had some knowledge of metalworking. I’ve laid out the case in the previous essay that the Valyrians were in all ways heirs to the magic of the GEotD. The GEotD had control of dragons and the sorcery needed to make fused stone structures, and their emperors appeared to Dany holding swords of pale fire, all of which makes it likely that the GEotD not only knew how to work steel, but likely knew the secret of making steel with dragon flame and sorcery in a forerunner of Valyrian steel. Thus, the Cymmeri’s metalworking knowledge may be a link to the far east.
The Zoqora, meanwhile, had brown skin and pale hair, and were long of limb, and eyes that were something other than black (TWOAIF). Venturing into the realm of the highly speculative, it’s possible ‘tall with pale hair and medium brown skin’ is the look of the gemstone emperors, or at least one of the races or tribes of the GEotD. The Dothraki, fellow GEotD fugitives, also have medium brown or ‘bronze’ skin tones, and are fairly tall. The Lengii are definitely a GEotD descendant, as their “Holy Island” island was specifically listed as a part of their empire, and they have “teak” colored skin, which is another way of describing medium brown, golden, or bronze coloring. The Lengi are also very, very tall, like the Sarnori, and have the same black hair. The only difference is the eye color – black for the Sarnori and golden for the Lengi, which is likely explained by the Lengi having interbred with the Old Ones… whoever they are.
We’ve mentioned the similarities in eye, skin, and hair color, and height between Sarnori and Dothraki, and it’s probably also worth noting that both cultures were very good with horses, just in different ways. The Sarnori have their deadly scythe chariots – that requires very advanced horsemanship, breeding, and training, and also very strong horses. Indeed, we are told they used specific breeds for specific purposes – black mares for their cavalry, and blood-red horses trained to work in teams to pull the scythe chariots. The Dothraki were nomadic, unlike Sarnor, which accounts for the different uses of horses, but there may well have been some ancient transference of culture, knowledge, and horseflesh, even if they were generally rivals. The Dothraki probably did not bring their horses with them from the east, as the Jogos Nhai have to use zorses for lack of large horse breeds. The horses seems to have been in the grasslands.
Given the similar coloring and the similar horse culture… it’s almost impossible not to conclude that the Sarnori and Dothraki share a common ancestor, likely on the west side of the mountains. One culture became urbanized, whilst the other remained nomadic, but it’s probably not a coincidence we get two somewhat similar looking horse peoples living right next to one another.
The Sarnori men and women are said to have had the custom of making war together, with the women twice mentioned as chariot drivers. Huzhor Amai’s Cymmeri wife supposedly made his armor, which we are later told is in fact steel. So, even though we have transitioned from female rulers, the Fisher Queens to male rulers, the High King and lesser Kings of Sarnor, we still see a remnant of some kind of gender equality and gender role flexibility. This is too broad of a concept to be specifically associated with the GEotD, but it fits in with the general narrative of shift from matriarchal societies to patriarchal ones, which is worthy of note as George seems to be depicting this phenomena across large parts of the world. On a cosmic level, this all goes back to the murder of the moon goddess.
There’s nice bit of symmetry here with the beginning and end of the story of the grasslands: The Fisher Queens “ruled from a floating palace that made its way endlessly around its shores,” while today “the khals drive their great herds of horses and goats endlessly across their “sea,” fighting one another when they meet and occasionally moving beyond the borders of their own lands for slaves and plunder…” We used to have wise and benevolent female rulers traveling an actual sea, now we have traveling bands of violent male killers in a grass sea, again illustrating the shift towards patriarchy and violent conquest.
Lastly, concerning Sarnor, it should be noted that they are some of the most accomplished seafarers and travelers in history. The Great Empire of the Dawn conquered Leng by sea, and if they reached Westeros in any meaningful capacity (meaning more than a handful of dragonriders flying on dragonback), then it was surely a maritime power as well. It’s likely they were in any case, simply because of their size and power. The travels of the Sarnori:
Sarnori traders traveled to Valyria and Yi Ti, to Leng and Asshai. Sarnori ships sailed the Shivering Sea to Ib and Far Mossovy. Sarnori kings warred against the Qaathi and the Old Empire of Ghis, and lead many a foray against the bands of nomadic horseman who roamed the steppes to their east. (TWOIAF)
That’s pretty extensive travel, and they seem to have an interest in lands formerly under the rule of the Great Empire. It’s really too bad about the burning of the great library at Alexandri– I mean Sallosh, city of scholars, or else I might not have to write this essay. 🙂
So, to sort of sum up our findings here, a lot of people seem to have fled the collapse of the Great Empire of the Dawn by going west over the Bones Mountains. Thus both genetics and culture from the various tribes of men that comprised the Great Empire spread out all through Essos: to Valyria, to Qarth, and to peoples of the grasslands such as the Sarnori and Dothraki. There’s also the question of the Andals, who are said to have possibly arisen in the grasslands south of the Silver Sea, because that hey that Hugor Hill mythology that bears some of the hallmarks of the Azor Ahai mythology, and Hugor is very close to Huzhor, as in Huzhor Amai. They also have that Starry Sept and a heavy astronomical component to their theology in general. Perhaps another day we can explore that possibility. For now, I hope you have enjoyed this essay, and I will see you all next year with more Mythical Astronomy and Between 2 Weirwoods!